Three keys to catapulting from paralysis to action.
What is the most frightening six-letter word in the English language?
No, it's not, "D-A-T-I-N-G." And it's not, "S-K-I-I-N-G." And it's not, "P-A-S-T-R-Y" either.
How about, "C-H-A-N-G-E"?
If you're like most people (and don't fool yourself -- you are), C-H-A-N-G-E pretty much scares the dickens out of you. All of us try to make changes in our daily lives, but how many of us are really successful?
You try to quit smoking, or lose weight, or speak Hebrew, or visit your grandmother, or surf the Internet a bit less, or spend more time with your kids, and chances are you may make a bold and decent start, but it peters out after a few days. Or, more likely, you never really get started at all, you just talk about it all the time.
Welcome to the club. Everyone finds change difficult. But some people do seem to be better at it than others. What is their secret? How do they manage to move forward? Why do some people view life's hurdles as challenges to embrace while others perceive every new transition as a 50-ton barrier on the road in front of them?
The answer is not nearly as simple as this article appears to make it, but it is within reach.
Here are three keys that may not sound especially potent or very new, but still have the potential to catapult you from paralysis to action.
1. SEE WHAT YOU HAVE ALREADY DONE
A fundamental requirement for embarking on anything new is that you must believe in yourself. All of us have succeeded in certain areas and have failed in others. Unfortunately, the failures often seem to overshadow the achievements. We tend to magnify our deficiencies and downplay our accomplishments.
This must stop. You'll never muster enough energy to make difficult changes without compelling evidence that you are a capable human being. The only way to do this is by remembering, listing, and savoring the successes in your life. Five minutes a day should be sufficient. After a while, you WILL start believing that you can.
How do we know this is true? Because the wisest of all men, King Solomon, said so.
"The heart of the wise man looks to the right; the heart of the fool looks left" (Proverbs).
The Hebrew language has the unique distinction of being written and read from right to left. This means that every holy book is opened and every subsequent page is turned to the right side. So many of us open these books with the best of intentions. We want to study, we want to teach, we want to finish etc. But, all too often, reality sets in. We get bogged down, we slow down, we lose our interest and our resolve. We want to quit and we often do.
A great part of our bent to surrender comes from the enormity of the task. "Look at how many pages there are in this book. I'll never finish anyway. I might as well quit now."
Stop, says King Solomon. You are looking at the wrong side of the book. Only a fool looks to the left. That shows you how many pages you haven't yet studied. Look to the right. There you will see what you have already learned. That will encourage you to continue your task and complete your mission. That is the formula for becoming wise.
2. 'COLD TURKEY' IS FOR THE BIRDS
Everyone has bad habits. They range from the terribly serious kind -- drugs, gambling, over-eating, to the milder variety -- nail-biting, interrupting, and being a 'neat freak'.
One of the most potent stumbling blocks to success is the notion that the only way to quit is to do so all at once. Not true. I have found that most people make changes gradually. There are times and situations where only radical methods can be effective, but, by and large, throw a large hamburger on a high-chair tray in front of little Joey and chances are it will end up on the floor. But cut it into small, manageable, bite-size pieces and he might eat two burgers
Big Joey is a lot like little Joey. By definition, habits (and certainly addictions) are things we have done for long periods of time. The swift and sudden removal of them may produce swift and sudden change. But that is not what you are looking for. You want lasting change.
Identify a firm and specific goal. I want to stop coming late to meetings, dinners, work, synagogue, and medical appointments, whatever. Do not attempt any alteration in your schedule for two weeks. Simply jot down every time you come late and by how many minutes. Create an objective for the following week to reduce that late-coming by just five minutes in just two or three places. Chart your results. Do not overreach your goal. Even if it seems easy, just stick to the plan. Add five minutes and two more places each week. If you fail, just extend the same projection for an additional week. Take pleasure in your accomplishment. Reward yourself. 3. LEAVE THE COMPARISONS TO THE REAL ESTATE BROKERS
One of the side effects of this incredible Age of Communication is that everyone knows everything about everybody. Or, at least they think they do.
"Boy, Stan sure looks like he's making the big bucks." "Debbie lives such a carefree life. Not a worry in the world." "Well isn't Miriam just Miss Popular. No wonder she's always smiling."
The fact is that we actually know very little about Stan, Debbie, or Miriam. All we know is what we see. And the reality may be very far from the discernible.
But that doesn't stop us from making constant and damaging comparisons.
"I'll just never be as popular as Miriam. So why even bother trying to make friends with __________." "I'll always be a worrier. That's just the way I am wired. I wish I could be more like Debbie.
"So what if I'm unemployed. Stan's making high six figures and I should start at 60K?"
We use our mistaken impressions to formulate damaging comparisons about people around us, and then conclude that we can never "match up" to our peers.
How soon we forget that God made each of us with our own unique personality, DNA, fingerprints, and purpose. No two people contain the same potential or mission on this planet. So, besides the fact that things are NEVER the way they seem, our goals must singularly be our own. What someone else, no matter how similar he may seem to you, has accomplished is completely irrelevant to your life objectives.
Focus on what is within your reach. Never forget that your capacity to change is not in any way associated with anyone else's achievements or failures. Be your own man or woman. Change is hard enough without having to compare yourself to anyone else.
In sum, focus on your successes, cut the new steps into bite-size pieces, and never ever compare yourself to anyone else. That's the simple formula to get you started on the road to change. No, the road is not perfectly paved, free of traffic, or easy to navigate. But it does not have to be nearly as daunting as we think it is.
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Kodak declared bankruptcy this week. Legislation to ban digital cameras could have saved this company, a “jobs creator,” pillar of the community and long-time wonderful brand. One wonders why they didn’t make the effort? Would you have lobbied for that bill?
A friend tells a story about Kodak. Apparently, they had 59 buildings on the site that made film. As the film business started to shrink, the obvious thing for Kodak to do was to shrink as well, to reduce overhead, to become more nimble. The CEO said, “look out at those buildings and answer this question for me: How many steps are involved in making film?”
The answer, of course, was 59. Slowly shrinking wasn’t an option. The overhang was too large, it was going to take a leap, not a gradual series of steps. And that’s why the future is uncomfortable for most successful industrialists, including those in the media business.
It’s interesting to note that the only people who are in favor of SOPA and PIPA are people who are paid to be in favor of it. And creators (authors like me and Clay Shirky and Scott Adams) aren’t. While the folks at the “Copyright Alliance” pretend to be looking out for the interests of independent filmmakers and authors, the fact is that the only paying members of their lobbying group seem to be big corporations, corporations that aren’t worried about creators, they’re worried about profits. Given a choice between a great film and a profitable one, they’d pick the profitable one every time. Given the choice between paying net profits to creators and adjusting the accounting…
Anyway, back to the future:
The leap to a new structure is painful for successful industries precisely because they’re successful. In book publishing, the carefully constructed system of agents, advances, copyeditors, printers, scarcity, distributors, sales calls, bestseller lists, returns and lunches is threatened by the new regime of the long tail, zero marginal cost and ebook readers with a central choke point. The problem with getting from one place to another is that you need to shut down building 59, and it’s hard to do that while the old model is still working, at least a little bit.
Just about all the people who lost their jobs in Rochester meant well and worked hard and did their jobs well. They need to blame the senior management of Kodak, the ones who were afraid of the future and hoped it would go away. There are more pictures being taken more often by more people than ever before–Kodak leadership couldn’t deal with their overhang and was so in love with their success that they insisted the world change in their favor, as opposed to embracing the future that was sure to arrive.
Please understand that the destruction of the music business had no impact at all on the amount of music available, and little that I can see on the quality of that music either. Musicians just want to make music, thanks very much, and they’ll find a way to make a living gigging in order to do so. The destruction of the film business in Rochester is going to have very little impact on people’s ability to take photos. The destruction of the New York publishing establishment will make me sad, and they/we should hustle, but it’s not going to have much impact on the number of books that are written.
Before we rush to the most draconian solution we can think of to save the status quo, I think it’s worth considering what the function of the threatened industry is, and whether we can achieve that function more directly now that the future is arriving.
Check out this short TED video from Clay Shirky. Especially the first minute, the middle 90 seconds and the last one as well.
Every year since 2006 or so, I've skipped the tradition of throwing up a New Year's Resolution that I'll soon forget, and instead, I've focused on creating THREE WORDS that sum up all that I would like to focus on for the coming year. This method works well for several people, and over the years, we've had many people write out blog posts that describe their Three Words and how they use the model to improve themselves and/or their business in the coming year. It's that time again.
I don't unveil my own personal Three Words until January 1, but I'll tell you about how it works by going through my 2011 words. My words were:
* Reinvest * Package * Flow
The words are meant to help me see the way I'd like to view my world, the lens I choose to use. So, with "reinvest," my intent was to talk about reinvesting my effort on fitness and financial goals, as well as some of my community commitments. My effort to "package" was to make sure people better understood what I was selling and that they understood how to use it. My "flow" goal was to make sure that I worked on eliminating distractions and cutting out all the various clutter points of my personal and professional life.
I can see from a review of the year where things went well and where things didn't. I can see where I didn't focus on my three words and then I can sometimes see where I did it better. Interestingly, the last two months of 2011 were where I invested the most effort in accomplishing the desires behind those three words. So, though my year at large wasn't very well guided by those three words, they saw me into the efforts that will make 2012 really great for me.
PLAN YOUR THREE WORDS
People rush into telling me their three words, but if you're going to do this in a meaningful way, the goal is that you think long and hard about what these words will mean for you, how you can sum up an entire PERSPECTIVE into these words, and how you can use them as guideposts for your actions in the coming year.
Last year, as with this year, I invited people just like you, Rachel , to write in and share your Three Words. Here's just a very small sampling:
Dimitri - Move, Grow Share.
Susan - Focus, Grow Connect.
Amruta - Ask, Do, Share.
Eric - Adapt, Support, Teach.
David - Remarkable, Share, Understand.
C.C. - Create, Inspire, Teach
Beth - Challenge, Empower, Collaborate
Lisa - Passion, Balance, Give Back.
You can see where they're headed with these. I didn't pick them because they're the best or the worst of the examples. And there are maybe another 100 or so people you can learn from here: http://www.chrisbrogan.com/my-3-words-for-2011/ . But maybe that will get you going.
RECIPES FOR LIVING
Thereafter, here's what I'm going to do to slot my Three Words into my actions for any given week or day. Here's the whole larger layout, in order of hierarchy.
Three Words - those words that guide my principles and direction.
Monthly Challenge - I'm going to push myself to one, two, or three challenges a month, wherein which I'll tackle something important that matches with those challenges. I know, for instance, that Jacqueline and I will be doing a month of yoga starting January 1. So, every single day in January, no matter what else I'll do, I'll do yoga daily. Come February, I probably will switch to another challenge, and again, one per every three words.
Daily Recipes- With that in mind, then I know how to align my days by putting together "daily recipes." So now, if I have a fitness goal, a development goal, and a business goal, I'll slot this into each day with this recipe action. For January, I know that I'll be doing yoga daily. That'll be listed into my fitness recipe slots for daily consideration. I'll have my business goals broken down to recipes, so I won't have to wonder, "How will I add value today?" It'll just be there. See how that works?
So, you go from 3 Words, to a Monthly Challenge that hopefully is your 3 Words in action, and from that into Daily Recipes, which are your way to keep those goals top of mind.
My One Reveal
One word of my Three Words will be "practice." And by that, I mean to honor this sentiment: "the practice is the reward." It's something that Jacqueline and I are working on a lot in our personal lives and in our relationship. It spreads beyond that into my business and personal goals as well. The methods above? They are ideal for maintaining a practice-based mindset. As Jacqueline and I were talking about those monthly challenges, she pointed out that it's a lot easier to commit to a month at a time of practice and that it's easier to see the rewards of that, than it is to try and remind yourself of your 3 words all year long. I don't disagree at all. -- From Chris Brogan's newsletter
My three words are Sanctuary, Presentation, Connect
Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware It's not too late to avoid these common regrets in life.
For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.
People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learned never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected: denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.
When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship.
Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
Related Article: Torah With Morrie #4: Live Like You're Dying
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one.
Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.
When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
Life is a choice. It is your life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.
by Ben Gross http://bengross.com/your-new-years-resolution-pick-better-passwords/ As we near the end of 2011, I can’t help but think this is the year I had the most trouble telling the difference between actual news stories and pieces from “America’s Finest News Source”, The Onion. As I write this article, details are still unfolding from the data breach at the well-known private intelligence firm Stratfor.
According to reports, hackers found a weakly protected database of usernames and passwords and an unencrypted database of credit card information. The hackers proceeded to use credit cards in the database to make donations to charitable organizations. Just because any story can use a bit more absurdity, there were claims and counter claims of whether or not the attack was associated with Anonymous, the discerning hackers first choice of affiliation.
According to Identity Finder, the Stratfor database contained approximately 44,000 hashed passwords in the database, roughly half of which have already been exposed. Unfortunately, another 20,000 or passwords on pastebin would not even be newsworthy, if it were not for the notoriety of Stratfor. Note: if you think you might have been on the list of compromised accounts in the Stratfor database, you can check at Dazzlepod.
There is plenty of blame to go around. First, Stratfor stored user passwords as basic unsalted MD5 hashes, which is simply irresponsible. There are widely available and generally well-regarded solutions for storing passwords such as bcrypt, which is nicely summarized in Coda Hale’s How To Safely Store A Password. Secondly, and more importantly, storing customer’s credit cards in clear text is unconscionable. Never mind the question about why on earth they were storing CCVs in their database, which is never OK.
Given the recent attacks against Sony, Gawker, HBGary Federal, and Infragard Atlanta, one could reasonably expect that Stratfor would pay more attention to the operational security side given their business.
To put the Stratfor hack in a more global context, the 2011 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report aggregates data from Verizon RISK, the U.S. Secret Service and the Dutch High Tech Crime Unit. DataLossDB Statistics collected data from open sources including news reports, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and public records. These reports give a more nuanced breakdown of the types of breaches and data exposed across many industries.
As much as it pains me to blame the victim, a great many of the subscribers to Stratfor’s service, clearly could and should have picked better passwords. According to Stratfor Confidential Customer’s passwords analysis, we could start with the 418 users who picked “stratfor” as their password or even the 71 users who picked “123456.” The database was full of weak passwords, which was why the clear text of nearly half the passwords followed in a post shortly after the original password hashes appeared online.
In Data Evaporation and the Security of Recycled Accounts, I described how passwords for email accounts are frequently the weak link in the security chain. It is common for sites to allow users to reset their passwords to the email address listed on the account. This means that a compromised email account may be the only method an attacker needs to gain access to other accounts.
In my dissertation interviews, I talked with people about how they managed their accounts and passwords. Many of my interviewees told me they effectively had 2–3 passwords they used for most accounts with some minor variations due to password complexity rules. The interviewees frequently reported using a set of low, medium, and high security passwords. Unfortunately, the email accounts were often given the low security passwords.
It pains me to think how many of the customers in Stratfor’s database likely reuse the same password on multiple sites. In Measuring password re-use empirically, Joseph Bonneau analyzed the overlap between rootkit.com and gawker.com passwords in addition to other studies and found a wide-spread ranging from 10% to 50% overlap. Even with 10% overlap, there are significant benefits from leveraging one exploited password database to compromise another. As always, XKCD keeps track of the pulse of the internet and has informative comics for both Password Reuse and Password Strength.
Realistically, it’s getting to the point where unless you have a pretty fantastic password, if your password is in a database of poorly hashed passwords then someone with a bit of time can discover it. Why is that you might ask? Whitepixel the purveyors of fine open source GPU accelerated password hashing software report that it currently achieves 33.1 billion password/sec on 4 x AMD Radeon HD 5970 for MD5 hashes. This is fast enough to make rainbow tables (pre-computed hashes for a dictionary attack) much less compelling. If the attacker has any additional personal information this significantly increases the chance of a successful attack since so many people use bits of personal information in their passwords. Bruce Schneier describes commercial software that exploits personal information when attempting compromise password hashes in Secure Passwords Keep You Safer.
In general, unless your password or pass phrase is quite long you are far better off with a long randomly generated string that you manage with a password manager. There are many good options including my personal favorite 1Password, LastPass, RoboForm, or the open source projects PwdHash or Password Safe. PasswordCard is a nice alternative if you would prefer a solution you can always carry with you that does not require any dependencies besides what you can carry in your wallet.
Unfortunately, none of the password managers are magic. You will still have to deal with a depressingly large number of services that force you to choose poor passwords with arbitrary restrictions. Troy Hunt names some offenders in the Who’s who of bad password practices – banks, airlines and more. Still, if you simply use a password manager and different password with each service, you will dramatically limit any potential damage, as an attacker cannot reuse your password on another service.
DEBUNKERY BY ALASDAIR WILKINS DEC 12, 2011 3:00 PM 18,232 68 Share
http://io9.com/5867401/ There really is no difference between men and women’s math abilities There's a longstanding myth of a gender gap between boys' and girls' math performance, suggesting some basic biological difference in how the two genders approach math. It's deeply controversial and widely discredited. And now, a new study has completely debunked it. Until now, there was maybe a sliver of statistical data to support the existence of this gender gap — nothing remotely convincing, mind you, but just enough that the idea couldn't be entirely dismissed out of hand. While most who studied the issue pointed for cultural or social reasons why girls might lag behind boys in math performance, there was still room for biological theories to be proposed.
The best-known of these is the "greater male variability hypothesis", which basically says ability among males varies more widely than that of females, which means you'll see more males at the extreme ends of the spectrum, good and bad. Then-Harvard president Larry Summers infamously put forward this idea back in 2005 as a way to explain the lack of great female mathematicians, and this was one of about a dozen different factors that ultimately cost him his job.
Now, researchers Jane Mertz of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Jonathan Kane of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater have performed the most comprehensive exploration yet of math performance. They took in data from 86 different countries, many of which had not previously kept reliable records of math performance and so their addition allowed for much stronger cross-cultural analysis. So what did they find?
First, in many countries, there's no gender gap at all both at the average and very high levels of performance. Some countries, including the United States, do show a gender gap, but that gap has decreased substantially over the last few decades, and some test scores suggest American girls have already caught up to their male counterparts.
The researchers looked at one measure of young people with extremely high math abilities - namely, those who scored a 700 or higher on the math section of the SAT before the age of 13. In 1970, boys in this category outnumbered girls 13 to 1, while today the ratio is just 3 to 1 and still falling. Similarly, while just 5% of math Ph.D.s in the United States in the 1960s were given to women, today that figure stands at 30%. All of these findings argue strongly that the apparent gender gaps are really just disparities in education and cultural expectations, not evidence of some deeper biological mechanism. If there really is a "math gene" or something like it that males have and boys don't, we simply wouldn't see such vast changes over time or indeed in different countries, many of which show no gender gap at all.
And what about the greater male variability hypothesis? Well, there's a bit of evidence to support this - provided you blatantly cherry-pick certain countries. Kane and Mertz compared the variability of male and female math scores in different countries and found that the variability ratio in Taiwan is 1.31, meaning boys there do have substantially more variability than girls.
However, the ratio in Morocco is 1.00, meaning there is absolutely no difference in the genders' variability. You can go even further by looking at Tunisia, which has a ratio of 0.91, which means it's actually the girls there who show greater variability. For this hypothesis to be correct, it would have to hold true for all countries — the fact that the ratios vary so much means it's just the result of different cultural factors, or it could simply be random statistical noise.
Mertz and Kane were also able to debunk a couple other hypotheses about math performance, specifically the "single-gender classroom hypothesis" and "Muslim culture hypothesis", both of which were argued for by Freakonomics author Steven Levitt. The idea here is that the gender inequity found in many Muslim countries actually benefits girls, perhaps because they are generally educated in gender-separated classrooms and that helps somehow.
It's an interesting, counter-intuitive idea, but it also appears to be completely wrong. The authors say that, upon close examination of the data, girls in these single-gender classrooms still scored quite poorly. The boys in these countries, such as Bahrain and Oman, had scored even worse, but Kane suggests that's because many attend religious schools with little emphasis on mathematics.
Also, low-performing girls are often pressured to drop out of school and so don't appear in the statistics, which falsely inflates the girls' overall performance. The point, says Kane, is that these differing scores don't point to benefits of gender-separated classrooms or speak to features of Muslim culture as a whole - rather, they're due to social factors in play in a few countries, and the single-gender classrooms are just a confounding variable.
Indeed, Mertz and Kane were able to demonstrate pretty much the exact opposite of those hypotheses: as a general rule, high gender equality doesn't just remove the gender gap, it also improves test scores overall. In particular, countries where women have high participation in the labor force, and command salaries comparable to those of their male counterparts, generally have the highest math scores overall. The researchers comment on this finding:
Kane: "We found that boys — as well as girls — tend to do better in math when raised in countries where females have better equality, and that's new and important. It makes sense that when women are well-educated and earn a good income, the math scores of their children of both genders benefit."
Mertz: "Many folks believe gender equity is a win-lose zero-sum game: If females are given more, males end up with less. Our results indicate that, at least for math achievement, gender equity is a win-win situation."
As for how to close the gap even further and generally increase math scores, Mertz says the study argues strongly against the proposal to create single-gender classrooms. Instead, the researchers point to fairly common sense solutions: increase the number of math teachers in middle and high schools, decrease the number of children currently living in poverty, and take greater steps to reduce gender inequity.
Those may all seem fairly straightforward, but that's pretty much exactly the point - this isn't about tricking our brains or creating some perfect conditions to unlock children's hidden mathematical aptitude. As Mertz explains, this is all about culture, not biology:
"None of our findings suggest that an innate biological difference between the sexes is the primary reason for a gender gap in math performance at any level. Rather, these major international studies strongly suggest that the math-gender gap, where it occurs, is due to sociocultural factors that differ among countries, and that these factors can be changed."
Read the original paper at the American Mathematical Society.
Beauty and the Greeks by Rabbi Doniel Baron What was the underlying conflict between Jewish and Greek philosophy?
The ancient Greeks were obsessed with aesthetics and held beauty above all. The Greeks also championed the potential of the mind, and the works of their philosophers remain required reading at universities to this day. Far from keeping this idea to themselves, the Greeks spread their value system to every culture they conquered. In an astounding military campaign in which Alexander the Great conquered large swathes of the world and remained undefeated, the Greeks created a vast empire through which they broadcast their message.
Yet when Greek culture and its way of life reached the land of Israel, it met with incredible resistance from the rabbinic establishment. For the two centuries leading up to the story of Chanukah, years during which the Jews were exposed to Greek culture, the rabbis maintained their relentless opposition to the Greek way of life.
Things came to a head when Antiochus the Greek finally outlawed the most essential practices of Judaism. The rabbis refused to back down, and were willing to risk everything to preserve the Jewish way. The resulting conflict became the miraculous story of Chanukah, the Jewish triumph over the Greeks, and the establishment of an independent Jewish government in Judea.
Is Beauty Bad?
The underlying conflict between Jewish and Greek philosophy begs explanation. What was so bad about the beauty that the Greeks extolled? Are aesthetics dangerous? Why were they so vehemently against Greek culture even before it outlawed the practice of Judaism?
In a similar vein, what bothered the Greeks? They had political control and what appeared to be clear military superiority. Their culture dominated the world. What was it about the stubborn band of Jews in Judea that so irked them? What pushed them to go so far as banning another people's religion?
The answer cannot be that Judaism frowns on beauty. The Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple, was replete with gold and silver. Designed and built according to prophetic instructions, it was known as one of the most beautiful structures in the world, and the remnant of the complex that survives to our day hints to its grandeur. Jerusalem itself is called the epitome of beauty in the Book of Lamentations. The Torah commands us to beautify our fulfillment of commandments with physical beauty, and have a beautiful sukkah, shofar, and more. The Torah itself emphasizes how some of our holiest ancestors, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Yosef were extraordinarily beautiful people -- physical beauty noticed by the most powerful monarchs of the time.
What, then, was wrong with the Greeks? Why didn't the rabbis embrace a thinking culture that appreciated physical beauty?
What is Beauty?
The answer lies in the core definition of beauty. Classical beauty, the conception of aesthetic that survived the millennia, stems from harmony. Without harmony, we tend to find visual stimuli either boring and bland or chaotic and overly busy. One example of harmony is found in symmetry; an image which is perfectly balanced is appealing. The Greeks were obsessed with the human physique, itself a marvel of perfect symmetry. We also find harmony in sharp contrasts such as in the sight of a deep valley against the backdrop of a tall mountain.
Even for the less artistic among us, perception of color illustrates this idea. We see beauty in the use of analogous colors, colors which are adjacent to each other on the tertiary color wheel, a progressive arrangement of 12 colors ordered according to their wavelengths. Yet we also see beauty from contrasts, particularly from complementary colors which are directly opposite each other on a color wheel. Both reflect harmony that unites the colors of the medium, either through contrast or complement, and presents one with a balanced visual medium.
With this background, we can understand the real war between the Greeks and the Jews. While the Greeks understood the harmony in physical beauty, they missed the point. The ultimate harmony is the union of the spiritual and physical worlds. It creates a beauty like no other, an effect so powerful that any attempt to imitate it is an insult to the notion of beauty.
There is no greater harmony than the connection between material things and their spiritual source. Jerusalem is the essence of beauty in Judaism; it is the point where heaven and earth kiss, a bridge between two realms, one side of a symmetrical phenomenon. According to Jewish tradition, the physical energy that sustains every part of the world flows from Jerusalem. King Solomon understood how Jerusalem connects every corner of the earth to its spiritual source, and was even able to plant in Jerusalem things indigenous to other parts of the world because he understood where each channel of energy stemmed from Jerusalem and extended across the globe. Jerusalem below is the physical counterpart of the spiritual energy that flows to the world, creating the perfect harmony between physical and spiritual.
The beautiful people in the Torah were living reflections of harmony between the physical world and the spiritual. Joseph, for example, was so handsome that the local women would climb the walls just to get a glimpse of him. Instead of letting physical pleasure dominate him, Joseph stood up to the test when tempted by Potiphar's wife, and did not let his physical beauty sever him from the real harmony of living a spiritual life. Our ancestors described as beautiful were individuals whose physical attractiveness lived in perfect harmony with their spiritual essence.
The Greeks traded real harmony between heaven and earth for the cheap harmony between different aspects of the physical world. In fact, it is often physical beauty and temptation that stands in the way of one's access to real harmony. The Greeks abused beauty because they flaunted something that was only externally beautiful and ignored the pursuit of genuine harmony. From their perspective, only things that man can perceive and understand exist, and harmony with something transcendental would be impossible.
The rabbis immediately spotted the threat in Greek culture, and fought against replacing real beauty with a superficial imposter. In turn, the Greeks eventually realized the threat that the Jews posed to their own philosophy and how our idea of beauty makes theirs meaningless. They therefore went on the offensive.
We won the battle on Chanukah over 2,000 years ago, but the war continues. Our opponents brandish all that which is pleasing to see and which seems beautiful. Yet nothing they offer comes close to the harmony between body and soul. It's up to us to decide whether to settle for phony beauty that provides nothing more than harmony between physical things, or whether we are true to our legacy of striving for the ultimate harmony between the physical and spiritual, between body and soul.
The temptation prevails to this day, and the lure of all that appears pleasing, especially during the commercial "holiday season," is overwhelming. Chanukah calls to us, asking us to seek real beauty, the harmony that can only come from connection to a higher realm.
Not everyone is lucky enough to get a wake-up call in life. Some people get theirs just in time. Others get it but don't hear it. Still others hear it loud and clear but refuse to take any notice. Pharaoh got his in this week's Parshah (Torah reading) when Joseph interpreted his dreams and advised him to appoint "a wise and discerning man" who would oversee a macro economic plan for the country. Joseph explained to the King of Egypt that because he experienced two dreams and woke up in between it was a sign from heaven to wake up and act immediately as the matter was of the utmost urgency. Pharaoh took the message to heart and the rest is history. On the health and well-being level, a little cholesterol, climbing blood pressure or recurring bronchitis might be the not-so-subtle signs that it's time for a change of lifestyle. These are the medical wake up calls we receive in life. Do we really have to wait for a heart attack, G-d forbid, to stop smoking, or start eating less and exercising more? That's what wake-up calls are for, to help us get the message before it's too late. Then there are the spiritual signs. I will never forget a friend who shared with me the story of his own red lights flashing and how a changed spiritual lifestyle literally saved his life. He was a workaholic driving himself to the brink. Had he carried on indefinitely he simply would not have survived. Then he decided to give Shabbat a try. What he had never previously appreciated about Shabbat was that it is a spiritually invigorating day of rest and spiritual serenity. And in discovering Shabbat, he rediscovered his humanity. (He also discovered he could play golf on Sundays instead of Saturdays.) A short trigger film I once used at a Shabbaton weekend program depicted a series of professionals and artisans at work. As they became engrossed and immersed in their respective roles they each became so identified with their work that they lost their own identities. Monday through Friday, the carpenter's face dissolved into a hammer, the doctor took on the face of a stethoscope and the accountant's head started looking exactly like a calculator. Then on Shabbat they closed their offices and came home to celebrate the day of rest with their families; slowly but surely, their faces were remolded from their professions to their personalities. Total immersion in their work had dehumanized them. They had become machines. Now, thanks to Shabbat, they were human again. That short video left a lasting impression. It's not easy to change ingrained habits. But Chanukah, which usually falls during this week's Parshah, carries with it a relevant message in this regard. Take one day at a time. One doesn't have to do it all at once. One light at a time is all it takes. On the first night we kindle a single Chanukah light, on the second night we kindle two lights, and on the third night three. We add a little light each day, and before long the menorah is complete and all eight Chanukah lights are burning bright. It's ok to take one day at a time. It's not ok to go back to sleep after you get a wake up call. Whether it's your medical well being or your spiritual health, the occasional wake up call is a valuable sign from Above that it may be time to adjust our attitudes, lifestyles or priorities. Please G-d, each of us in our own lives will hear the call and act on the alarm bells with alacrity
The Talmud teaches that "A small amount of light cancels much darkness." We begin tonight with a single candle for Hanukkah, along with the shamash, the flame that ignites the others. Place the hanukkiah in the window; dispel the darkness, one candle at a time. Celebrate the miracle of creating light.
A two minute teaching: A cruse of oil that should have lasted only one day lasted eight. But if so, the miracle was only for seven days -- it would have lasted one day in any case. So why do we light for eight days? Because the first night was the greatest Hanukkah miracle -- the courage to renew the tradition, hope in the future, to keep faith with God's promise and the steadfast human heart.
Chanukah starts at sundown tonight. Happy Chanukah!
Chanukah in Bergen Belsen by Libi Astaire
The rabbi was desperately looking for a small light in the sea of dark despair.
“In their very essence a Jew and despair are contradictory. They simply cannot co-exist together.” Rabbi Shraga Shmuel Schnitzler, who went by the more familiar name of Rabbi Shmelke, looked around the barracks to make sure that the others had understood his point. Amidst the crowd of weary faces that stared back at him, there were a few who were nodding their heads in agreement. Perhaps they, too, had been chassidim in another life — the life that existed before the war — and so they could appreciate the tales that Rabbi Shmelke told about chassidic Rebbes of former days.
Rabbi Shmelke didn’t tell his stories just to pass the time. His job, as he saw it, was to keep up the spirits of the Jews who were imprisoned in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp. That job would have been much easier if they were prophets, since the end of the war was just a few months away. But during that Kislev of 1944, the situation seemed as hopeless as ever. Even the thought of Chanukah, which was fast approaching, couldn’t dispel the gloom for most of them.
For Rabbi Shmelke, it was a different story. Since the beginning of the month he had been busy preparing for the holiday. He asked the same question to everyone he met: “Can you get us a little oil? Do you someone who works in the kitchen?”
The answer was always the same: No.
With dismay, he realized that Chanukah was only a few days away. He knew only too well what would happen if he couldn’t find any oil. Many of his fellow prisoners were clinging to life only by a slender thread of hope. Once that thread was snapped, they would succumb to the deep sea of dark despair that threatened to drown them. So he had to find some oil. Even if he found only enough oil to kindle the first Chanukah for a few seconds that would be enough. But no Chanukah lights? That wasn’t an option.
The day before Chanukah Rabbi Shmelke was at work — his “other” job in the camp was to remove dead bodies from the barracks — when he received an order to go to the last barrack, where some people had died during the previous night. While he walked across a field his foot got caught in a small hole in the frozen earth and he almost fell. He removed his foot from the hole and noticed that there was something buried inside. After making sure that no guards were watching him, he knelt down to see what it was.
He pulled out a small jar from the ground. Inside was some congealed liquid. Oil, he whispered. Oil for Chanukah!
Rabbi Shmelke then reached his hand inside the hole a second time. To his delight he discovered that the hiding place contained more surprises. He pulled out a carefully wrapped package and quickly undid the paper wrapping. Inside were eight little cups and eight thin strands of cotton.
It was obvious that some Jewish prisoner had buried this little menorah and the oil. But who was he? And where was he? Had he been transported to another camp? Had he died?
Although Rabbi Shmelke desperately wanted oil for his own barracks, he sincerely hoped that the Jew who had buried these things was still alive. Perhaps he was still in the camp and he would come back the next day and search for the treasure that he had so carefully hidden. So Rabbi Shmelke carefully reburied everything. But for the rest of the day and night, he asked every Jew that he met the same question: “I found some oil and a menorah. Maybe you were the one who hid them?”
The other prisoners looked at him with sad eyes, certain that at last the horrors of the Rabbi’s work had destroyed his mind. “No, Rabbi,” they said, one after another. “I didn’t hide any oil. I didn’t hide a menorah.”
Related Article: Chanukah in the Soviet Gulag
The next night, however, they discovered that Rabbi Shmelke hadn’t gone mad. When they returned to their barracks after the evening roll call they saw, to their amazement, a little menorah standing on one of the bunks. To their even greater surprise, one of the cups was filled with oil!
Rabbi Shmelke recited the blessings and then kindled the light for the first night. The group watched in silence while the tiny flame fought its eternal battle against the surrounding darkness. Some smiled, others cried. All felt a sweet spark of hope revive inside their embattled and embittered hearts.
Their own personal miracle was repeated on each night of the holiday. And then a few months later, in April 1945, an even greater miracle occurred. Germany surrendered. The war was over.
Rabbi Shmelke was one of the fortunate few who survived the war. After Bergen Belsen was liberated he returned to Hungary, where he served as a spiritual leader for other survivors and became known as the Tachaber Rav.
Several years later he made a trip to the United States, and while he was there he paid a visit to an acquaintance from the “old country” — Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe. While they reminisced, the Satmar Rebbe mentioned that he had also been a prisoner in Bergen Belsen.
“I was there a year before you,” said the Satmar Rebbe. “I was rescued on the 21st of Kislev, four days before Chanukah. Before I found out about the rescue plan, I made provisions for the holiday. I bribed several camp officials and put together a package of oil, cups, and wicks, which I then buried in a field. I always felt badly that my little menorah was never put to use.”
How much do our parents and grandparents influence us? Of course, the genes we inherit from them determine lots of important things about us – from our cholesterol levels to when we will go grey. But what about emotionally or spiritually?
I'd like to suggest that they influence us more than we might care to admit. We also tend to underestimate the potential they have in molding the value systems of the next generation.
A powerful case in point is the story in this week's Parshah. Joseph is sold into slavery down in Egypt and winds up in the house of Potiphar. His master's wife casts her lustful gaze on the handsome young man and repeatedly attempts to seduce him. Joseph is consistent in his refusal to even consider her advances. Then one day, the entire household goes to the temple for a special occasion. She feigns illness in order to be home alone with Joseph. He comes to the house "to do his work" (Genesis 39:11). Rashi offers two interpretations: the simple--that he came to work; and another, that he actually came to do his work with her!
Determined as he was, on this occasion Joseph was beginning to falter. Morale and morality were weakening and it seemed as if he was about to succumb to the temptress' entreaties.
Then suddenly something happened to help Joseph regain his senses and self-control. What was it--did they come home early? Did the postman ring the bell? Says Rashi, there appeared before Joseph an vision, an vision so potent that it restored his composure there and then. What was that image? Quoting the Talmud, Rashi says it was "the image of the visage of his father." Joseph suddenly saw his father Jacob's face, and with that his moral resolve was restored.
Was this a telepathic message transmitted from the Holy Land? According to the simple reading, at that stage Jacob didn't even know that Joseph was alive. He had been missing and presumed dead, devoured by a wild animal. The straightforward understanding of this Talmudic passage is that Joseph remembered his father and envisioned his patriarchal face, the classical image of the sage with the long, white beard. And with that image in his mind, Joseph found renewed spiritual stamina to resist temptation.
Some might understand this episode as Joseph not wanting to disappoint his aged father. Others might see the image as a catalyst evoking in Joseph his own latent spiritual resources. Either way, with Jacob's visage in his mind, Joseph wasn't prepared to lose the moral high ground. He couldn't and wouldn't do it to his dad. And, through his father; Joseph remembered who he was--a proud son of Jacob and grandson of Isaac and Abraham.
Such was the effect Jacob had on Joseph and such is the effect every father and mother, grandfather and grandfather, can potentially bring to bear on their offspring. Of course, they would have to be respected by their children as men and women of stature for their image to represent any kind of moral symbolism. If the image of a parent or grandparent would send a signal to the young person to, say, "go for it, my boy!" then clearly the system will fail. I can safely say that if not for the image of my own father and grandfather and their subtle influence on me, I would never have become a rabbi. They didn't push me at all but their influence was profound. Just their image, their character and very being, was enough to guide me in the right direction during my own wavering moments of youthful indecision.
Joseph was nearly lost way down in Egypt land but that one image of his father saved him from sin and helped him go on to achieve greatness. May we all be good role models and may our own images help inspire our children and grandchildren.
Friedman is wrong By JPOST EDITORIAL 12/15/2011 23:58
His misunderstanding of Israel is evident in his underlying assumption that appears in his columns repeatedly: that were Israel to just leave the settlements, peace would flow like a river. Talkbacks (77)
For the past several years, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, that guru for American Jewish liberals, has shown that he doesn’t really understand Israel or the region.
His misunderstanding of Israel is evident in his underlying assumption that appears in his columns repeatedly: that were Israel to just leave the settlements, peace would flow like a river.
Well, Israel uprooted all 21 settlements from Gaza in 2005, but instead of peace, received an unending barrage of missiles in return.
The settlements are a consequence of the conflict, not its cause. The PLO, if anyone has forgotten, was established in 1964, three years before the Six Day War and any thought of a West Bank settlement.
As for Friedman’s failure to understand the region, readers need look no further than his breathless “Postcard from Cairo” columns at the outset of the Arab Spring last February. To have read Friedman then was to believe this was 1989 all over again, and that Hosni Mubarak would be deposed and replaced by the Egyptian version of Vaclav Havel.
In one piece, he castigated Israel for not being more supportive of the protesters in Tahrir Square. “The children of Egypt were having their liberation moment,” he wrote, “and the children of Israel decided to side with Pharaoh – right to the very end.”
Wrong. Israel wasn’t supporting Pharaoh, but rather deeply concerned that following the Egyptian revolution, Sinai would turn into a terrorist base, the Egypt-Israel gas pipeline would be a constant target of attack, the Israeli Embassy in Cairo would be ransacked, and the Muslim Brotherhood – and Salafists to their right – would win the country’s parliamentary election.
Click here to find out more! Now, in his latest piece on Israel that appeared Wednesday entitled “Newt, Mitt, Bibi and Vladimir,” Friedman demonstrated that he also doesn’t know America.
In a line that could have come straight from the pens of AIPAC-bashers Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, Friedman wrote that he hoped Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whom he loathes, understood that the standing ovation he got in Congress earlier this year was not for his politics, but rather one that was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”
That’s right – that wicked, despicable Israel lobby.
According to Friedman, anybody who supports Israel must be on the nefarious Jewish lobby’s payroll. Otherwise, how could they dare? Maybe Friedman should consider the possibility that the ovation was the result of America’s elected officials – in tune with the feelings of their constituents – seeing in Israel a plucky little country that shares their own basic values and is trying to survive in an awfully bad neighborhood.
Maybe Friedman should consider that the ovation was the result of politicians understanding that this conflict is not about one settlement, or one Jerusalem neighborhood, but rather over the Jewish people’s right to a homeland.
No, that can’t be. In fact, writes Friedman – always concerned about Israel’s soul – were Netanyahu to go to the University of Wisconsin, many students, including Jews, would stay away because they are confused by Israeli policies: the current spate of right-wing Knesset legislation, the segregation of women on buses, the settlements.
And then came the kicker. Friedman’s proof that Israel is merrily heading down the path toward the abyss is that radical left-wing Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy says so.
Dubbing Levy a “powerful liberal voice, writing in Haaretz,” Friedman quotes from a recent Levy column: “What we are witnessing is w-a-r. This fall a culture war, no less, broke out in Israel, and it is being waged on many more, and deeper, fronts than are apparent. It is not only the government, as important as that is, that hangs in the balance, but also the very character of the state.”
Friedman’s use of an extremist such as Levy to prove his point is akin to taking the writings of America-bashing left-wing linguist Noam Chomsky as proof that America is bad.
The problem with Friedman and those sharing his sentiments about Israel is that they take an exception and make it the rule.
This school of thought takes a sex-segregated bus in Mea She’arim and turns the whole country into Iran; takes rocks thrown by bad, misguided youth at an IDF base and turns Israel into a country on the brink of civil war; and takes the government’s refusal to bail out a failing commercial television station as putting Israel on the fast track to Soviet Russia.
What is needed is some proportion. The burning of mosques by Jewish hooligans is deplorable, but it is no more representative of the country – or the direction it is going – than Florida Pastor Terry Jones’ burning of a Koran in May was a reflection of America. Friedman should know this.
I am missing the connection between puppetry and getting a liberal arts education. Writing well at 18 and writing well at 22 should be very different things.
What happens if you get learn a trade and 5 years later technology changes and your skills are obsolete or even worse 25 years later and you way too young to retire but learning a new skill would be difficult. What do you do then? A college degree might look a lot more attractive. What is your suggestion for all the out of work construction workers?
Community colleges are wonderful resources and can be a great fit for some. However the undergraduate education you get at community colleges is often less rigirous than the education you get at many traditional colleges.
I am not denying that there is a higher education bubble and that is it a serious problem.
Day Care does provide education and you can help you kids with their homework when you get home from work.
It is true that people wrongly look down on stay at home moms. They are definitely worthy of great respect but so are working moms. You seem to be suggesting that is impossible to be a working mother and a good parent.
I have friends who are working moms and I have friends that are stay at home moms and I have friends that are somewhat in between. Almost all complain about feeling guilty and being looked down upon by people who made different choices than they did. The right solutions for your family does not have to be the right solution for someone else.
Julien Smith has delivered a surprise, a confrontation, a book that will push you, scare you and possibly stick with you for years to come. The idea is simple: your flinch mechanism can save your life. It shortcircuits the conscious mind and allows you to pull back and avoid danger faster than you can even imagine it’s there. But what if danger is exactly what you need? What if facing the flinch is the one best way to get what you want? Here’s a chance to read the book everyone will be talking about, before they do. What are you afraid of? Here’s how to find out.
Video Interview with Chris Brogan ( It has a lot of swearing)
Would you think that “how are you today?” can be a religious question? And that it plays an important role in a major Biblical narrative?
In this week’s Parshah, Vayeishev (Genesis 37–40), we read the dramatic story of Joseph—the technicolor dream coat, the sibling rivalry in Jacob’s family, and Joseph’s descent to Egypt, sold into slavery. After being framed by his master’s wife for scorning her attempts at seduction, young Joseph finds himself incarcerated in an Egyptian jail. There he meets the Pharaoh’s butler and baker, and correctly interprets their respective dreams. Later, when Pharaoh himself will be perturbed by his own dreams, the butler will remember Joseph, and Joseph will be brought from the dungeon to the royal court. His dream analysis will satisfy the monarch, and the young Hebrew slave boy will be catapulted to prominence and named viceroy of Egypt.
How did Joseph’s salvation begin? It began with the imprisoned Joseph noticing that the butler and baker were looking somewhat depressed. “And Joseph came to them in the morning and he saw them, and behold, they were troubled. He asked Pharaoh’s officials . . . ‘Why do you look so bad today?’” (Genesis 40:6–7). They tell him about their disturbing dreams, he interprets the dreams correctly, and the rest is history.
But why did Joseph have to ask them anything at all? Why was it so strange to see people in prison looking sad? Surely depression is quite the norm in dungeons. Wouldn’t we expect most people in jail to look miserable?
According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the answer is that Joseph was exhibiting a higher sense of care and concern for his fellow human beings. Torn away from his father and home life, imprisoned in a foreign land, he could have been forgiven for wallowing in his own miseries. Yet, upon seeing his fellow prisoners looking particularly unsettled, he was sensitive enough to take the time to inquire about their well-being. In the end, not only did he help them, but his own salvation came about through that fateful encounter. Had he thought to himself, “Hey, I’ve got my own problems, why worry about them?” he might have languished in prison indefinitely.
Sometimes, says the Rebbe, a simple “how are you today?” can prove historic.
It’s a lesson to all of us to be a little friendlier. To greet people, perhaps even to smile more often.
Some years ago, after studying in the Talmud how one of the great sages declared that he had never allowed anyone else to greet him first but always made a point of initiating the greeting, I made a personal resolution to try and put this approach into practice. Every Shabbat I walk quite a few kilometers to and from our shul here in Johannesburg. I pass by many fellow pedestrians, mostly local black residents. Rarely had any of them greeted me, but now I am the one to say “good morning” to them. They always respond, though I must confess that some do look rather surprised. In a country where for many years they were not acknowledged as full-fledged citizens, a simple “hello” can become a very humanizing experience. Conversely, I am sometimes unpleasantly surprised when, ironically, a fellow Jew will walk right by me without even so much as a nod.
When we meet someone we know and ask, “Hey, how are you doing?” do we wait for the answer? Try this experiment. Next time you are asked how you are doing, answer “Lousy!” See if the other person is listening and responds, or just carries on his merry way, oblivious to your response.
Aside from Joseph’s many outstanding qualities which we ought to try and emulate, in this rather simple passage Joseph reminds us to be genuinely interested in other people’s well-being. And that it should not be beneath our dignity, nor should we be inhibited, to make an honest and sincere inquiry as to their condition. Who knows? It may not only change their lives, but ours.
If you could have seen me Wednesday morning, September 28th, you would have found me with clothing and luggage sprawled all over my room. My family and I were trying to head to New York City in good time before Rosh Hashana would begin. We would be having our Hineni High Holiday prayer services in the Essex House together with Jews from every part of the world. Rosh Hashana would go straight into Shabbos so we had to pack ourselves up for the next three days. That may not sound like a lot but when you are a family trying to get out on time, tensions rise and nerves are frayed. I was trying to remember everything we would need.
“Everyone collect your luggage into my room!” I called out. “I am running downstairs to put together some stuff in the kitchen. Then please take all the suit bags and hanging things along with all the suitcases to the car. We need to leave in 15 minutes.”
I heard footsteps rushing back and forth on the floor above me.
Great, I thought. They’re listening.
Then I heard the bumping sound of luggage being dragged down the steps.
“Wow, we might really make this with time to spare!”
The car was loaded with all our gear. We piled in and made our way to the city. Traffic was heavy but we finally pulled up to the hotel. I ran out of the car to wait at the reception desk and check us all in while my husband settled the car. The bellhop sped ahead with the luggage.
Finally I was able to take a breath. Not bad, I thought. I even have a little time before Rosh Hashana begins to contemplate and put my thoughts in order. The time flew by and there were just 40 minutes left till candle lighting. My children began getting ready. You could hear the noisy blow dryers as doors slammed open and shut.
I looked around the room and tried to see where my luggage was put. I didn’t find it anywhere. I looked under the beds, in the closet, in the bathroom. Nowhere.
I stepped out into the hall. Could it have been left there? Nope, nothing there.
I ran into my children’s room and turned everything upside down. Still no luggage.
My heart began beating hard. I had this sinking feeling in my stomach. I ran back to my room.
“Okay everyone!” I called out. “I don’t see my suitcase anywhere. Does anyone know where my luggage is?”
My family began searching the room, looking under the beds, behind the curtains, in the closet. They came up with nothing, just as I had. Uh oh. This doesn't look good.
“What color was your suitcase?”
“Were your hanging things in it too, Mommy?”
I took a breath. "Does anyone remember bringing a blue suitcase into the hotel?" All I got were blank stares.
“Does anyone remember loading my blue luggage into the car?”
“Well, I took the suit bags and hat boxes.”
“And I had to take the heavy suitcase that no one wanted to shlep.”
Everyone began to tell me what they did take – everything except my luggage.
I began to feel angry. Why does everyone remember their stuff and my stuff gets left behind? What am I going to do for the next three days? This isn’t right!
And then a thought popped into my head that totally changed my perspective. Not for just that moment, but the way I have seen things ever since.
It’s about time that I take responsibility and not blame others if there’s a mess-up, I thought to myself. Yes, I asked everyone to take my luggage and it would’ve been perfect if they did. But the bottom line is: it’s my luggage! I was supposed to check and make sure my suitcase made it to the car. I am accountable for my things. The buck stops here.
Sure, it’s great to have people help me but bottom line is it’s up to me to be sure that my suitcase makes it out the door. I have no one else to blame but myself.
My family looked at me, wondering what I would say. I could see that they felt terrible.
“Listen,” I said. “It’s my luggage! This is no one’s fault. I don’t blame anyone. It would’ve been nice if someone had put it in the car but it was really my job to be sure that it was there. And besides, it’s now 15 minutes before Rosh Hashana. How can I fail my first test of the year?”
P.S. If you are wondering what I did for the next three days, here’s the epilogue:
My husband suggested that I call a friend who lives down the block and ask her to find my luggage in our home and send it to me via taxi. At first I resisted. How could I trouble someone with all this 15 minutes before candle lighting? But my husband encouraged me, very strongly, to make the call. And my dear friend who I know wishes to remain anonymous began her year with a great mitzvah.
By Rabbi David Wolpe There is a large literature of 'doubleness' — Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Poe's William Wilson, Dostoevsky's The Double, James Hogg's Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, among many others. The idea that we are all split is an attractive explanation of our conflicting impulses. The Rabbis speak about a good and an evil inclination, but they do not propose any sort of simple minded split. "Were it not for the evil inclination, man would not care to build, would not marry and beget children or attend to the affairs of human existence." One Talmudic legend tells of the evil inclination being captured. As a result no house was built and no egg was laid. In other words, our drives are inextricable; our energies pour out in ways that are sometimes harmful, sometimes helpful, and usually a bit of both. In Kaddish Leon Wieseltier wrote, "But goodness and badness are almost never unmixed, since the heart is hungry and the will is free." We are less split than swirled, our characters marbled with drives. Nudging ourselves a bit closer to goodness, an effort requiring both humility and wisdom, is the deeper, daily nobility of we commingled creatures. The Maccabeats - Miracle - Matisyahu - Hanukkah
Ladies, it's not complicated. And guys feel free to add your additional points in the comment sections below. 1) Just like women, we need love. Even though women have the reputation of being more emotionally needy, we find ourselves longing for those words. Please say them often. 2) Additionally we crave respect and approval. Show us admiration and your wish will be our command. Nag us or attack us and we will retreat to our caves.
3) We are not mind readers. We can’t anticipate your needs and desires. Tell us what you want. Help us out. We want to give to you but you need to tell us how. Don’t be coy; be straight. The proof of our love is not in our clairvoyance but in our response to your clearly expressed wishes. 4) We respect what a good mother you are and how much you do for the community, but we do not want to be at the bottom of your to-do list. We want to feel like we are the most important person in your life. (Would you mind getting off the phone when we walk in the door?) 5) Our desire for physical intimacy is not some trivial biological need that we should just suppress until the kids are older. It is an expression of our desire for a deep and profound connection with you. When you rebuff it, it is hurtful and we feel rejected. Imagine if we are always too tired to talk to you… 6) Our jobs are important to us – for our self-worth, for a feeling of accomplishment, and because we want to provide for our families. Please try to understand that we work hard and are actually not on the golf course all day. 7) You seem to think we’re incompetent but we are actually capable of watching our children – and even doing a good job of it! If you want to have a break and get out of the house, please go – and trust us. We are not another one of your children. Please don’t speak of us that way (we don’t think it’s cute) when talking with your friends, and please don’t treat us that way. It diminishes us and you. 9) We really wish we could give you all the material possessions your heart desires. It is painful to us that we can’t. Please don’t increase the pressure by constantly criticizing us about it. 10) We are simple creatures with simple needs. We don’t require elaborate dinners on fancy china. We just want the comfort of a warm home and the love of a good woman.
Ten Things Women Wish Men Knew What, you say: Only 10?! Yes there are more. This is just a starting point. Add your additional points in the comment section below. 1) We want you to tell us you love us. Yes, we need to hear the actual words. We do not want to be like poor Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, begging his wife of 25 years to answer the question, “Do you love me?” We want you to tell us. Frequently. 2) And we want you to match your actions to your words. (Yes, we’re very demanding!) If you tell us you love us and then proceed to ignore all of our requests, needs and desires, your declaration will ring false. Not sure how? Ask us. We have a list.
3) We want to be more important than your job. We appreciate your (our) need for the fulfillment of your career ambitions but we want to feel like we are your first priority. This is usually manifested by calling during the day to check in, taking our calls and sounding like you are really interested in speaking to us, and treating us (at least) as nicely and with as much respect and sense of importance as you do your top client. 4) Time with you is much more valuable to us than more money. Yes, we appreciate the nice possessions but we’d rather go for a walk with you or spend a quiet evening together than receive a gift. Material goods do not and cannot compensate for not seeing you. 5) A few words of appreciation go a long way. “Thanks for dinner. It was delicious. I really liked the flavor” is certainly encouraging. Everyone wants to feel that their efforts are noticed and not taken for granted. Or: “I know you are also busy; thanks for going to the cleaners.” You get the picture. 6) Although you never get pregnant, our children are a shared responsibility. It is not “no big deal” (your words) when I take care of them, nor is it “an extraordinary act of kindness” (your implied words) when you do. (Along these same lines, I’ve noticed that when I go out of town you are flooded with meals and offers of help; yet when you go out of town, no one offers anything….) We are on this journey together and we are both responsible for our family. 7) We do not grow and change through criticism (do you?). You may have convinced yourself that you are only telling us for our own good but 1) you’re wrong because and it’s hurtful and ineffective and 2) you’re probably doing it to make your life easier. Like children (and plants) we grow best when nourished, nurtured and loved. Just because we are capable doesn’t mean we want to do everything ourselves. Changing a light bulb or taking out the garbage are not uniquely male pursuits or skills. I am certainly capable of both (this is not a source of great pride) and frequently engage in these activities. But we want you to relieve our burden, to take care of us – in all respects. We feel emotionally tended to when you take over some of these responsibilities, mundane and otherwise. 9) Clothing costs a lot more than you realize! I’m only partially being tongue-in-cheek here. Especially for newly married men who have never walked through the women’s section of a department store, the prices of basic shoes, dresses and skirts may seem absurd. They probably are. But you need to be sensitive to our needs and to what a realistic (considering many factors) expenditure will be. This experience will stand you in good stead should you ever be the parent of teenage girls! 10) Do not ever comment on our weight except to say how thin and beautiful we look.
Scott Buchanan http://www.stjohnscollege.edu/about/donrag.shtml "Under the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, have you persuaded yourself that there are knowledges and truths beyond your grasp, things that you simply cannot learn? Have you allowed adverse evidence to pile up and force you to conclude that you are not mathematical, not linguistic, not poetic, not scientific, not philosophical? If you have allowed this to happen, you have arbitrarily imposed limits on your intellectual freedom, and you have smothered the fires from which all other freedoms arise."
A Liberal Arts degree does not equal a Humanities degree. I happen to have ended up with an English degree but I took more Math and Science classes combined than I took English Classes.
I think EE majors should have a liberal arts background even if they have to be in a 5 year program to do so. You will make lots more money if you are engineer that can speak or write well than if can’t but that is not the most important factor to me. English majors should have a background in the math and sciences.
There is a higher education bubble and it is a huge problem but having everyone get a STEM won’t solve the higher education bubble. STEM degrees will just be worth less.
My plumber has a college degree. ( My previous plumber his father didn’t) I don’t think the only reason people should go to college is for money or status.
I have a friend that was a math major and became an art history major and got her masters in museum studies and she is working and doesn’t regret it. Her twin sister the physics major is actually having more work problems. Statically Stem majors do make more but I don’t think anyone one on this board thinks money equals happiness or the amount of money you make has anything to do with your value as a person.
I have friends who are writers and friends who are scientists and all value their liberal arts degree. I personally find my liberal arts degree one of the best choices I have ever made and you will never convince me it was a mistake.
I will probably won't be able to post for a few days.
Are you arguing against liberal arts degree or against college degrees at all? The cost of not going to school is larger than the cost of college education-- statistically. However, If you want a job today a degree alone won't cut it you need experience ( volunteer work, internships and summer jobs) and you need to network. If you think liberal arts is the problem what do you think people should major in? I would say that all the PHD's I know recommend a liberal arts degree to start with because you will specialize enough later. I only have A Bachelors but knowing how to read almost anything has certainly been very valuable to me personally and professionally.
Want to play G‑d? It’s simple, says the Talmud—and it’s a mitzvah, too: just visit the sick. G‑d visited Abraham when he was sick, so when you visit the sick, you’re playing G‑d.
In Hebrew, the game’s called bikkur cholim. Here are the rules:
Giving a Lift No frowns, no tears, no gloomy faces. None of that is going to heal anybody. Your job is to provide a little smile, some hope, and maybe even a few laughs. Learn a few good lines, like, “What’s a spring chicken like you doing in a place like this?” or, “How’s the room service in this place?” Extra points for every smile you elicit.
Of course, you have to know when you’re overstaying your welcome. At that point, tell the patient the chassidic adage, “Think good and things will be good”—and quietly slip out.
Lending a Hand Your presence itself is therapeutic, but the patient has other needs too. Find out how you can be of help. Grocery shopping? A ride to the doctor? Or maybe the house needs some tidying?
Time your visit with care. If the patient is in middle of a medical procedure, or in the immediate aftermath of one, it is likely that he or she won’t be in the mood for visitors.
Sometimes the situation doesn’t allow for visits. You can still do bikkur cholim by visiting the family, offering a helping hand, and . . .
Saying a Prayer The patient’s room is a holy place. While there, say a short prayer for a speedy recovery, such as, “May G‑d care for you amongst all the patients of Israel.” Or, on Shabbat, “On Shabbat it is forbidden to plead, but healing is soon to come.” When you leave, say a psalm or other prayer.
Guest post: In defense of a liberal education By Daniel de Vise http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/college-inc/post/guest-post-in-defense-of-a-liberal-education/2011/12/02/gIQAj8plKO_blog.html?mid=5484 St. John's College President Chris Nelson, left, talks with students on the Annapolis school’s campus. (Mark Gail - The Washington Post) Liberal arts colleges have struggled in these lean years to retain the confidence of parents that they will prepare students for a better fate than barista duty. Studies consistently show lib-arts students get a good education. Yet, Georgetown researcher Anthony Carnevale and others have documented that graduates in science and tech fields stand to earn more money in the long run.
Here, then, is a guest post from Christopher Nelson, president of St. John’s College in Annapolis, an outspoken champion of the liberal arts.
Students headed for college are worried that they may not find employment when they graduate. Specialized career training at the undergraduate level might thus seem to have appeal. And yet, study after study suggests that this can be short-sighted. The best preparation for the workforce of tomorrow, for the jobs that have yet to be created, is a liberal education -- the kind of education most especially found at the small residential liberal arts colleges across the country.
In the latest of these studies, alumni of our national liberal arts colleges, including St. John’s College, describe just how much they have benefitted personally and professionally from their college experience. The Annapolis Group, a consortium of 130 independent liberal arts colleges, released the findings of a national survey.
The Annapolis Group survey found that 60 percent of liberal arts college graduates said they felt “better prepared” for life after college than students who attended other colleges, compared to 34 percent who attended public flagship universities. The reasons are undoubtedly many, but one of them must surely be the level of personal attention the student receives at these colleges. For instance, 89 percent of liberal arts college graduates reported finding a mentor while in college, compared to 66 percent for public flagship universities.
Another reason will be the efforts made at these colleges to help their students develop the skills they will need to use in any career or profession: thoughtful reflection concerning the ends and means of both public and private life, habits of inquiry that will open pathways to new discoveries, practice in shaping a thought and in listening to others - actually listening.
These are skills best honed in small classes, where students are not just taking lecture notes but are actively participating in their own education. There they get daily practice working with their classmates in analyzing problems, framing arguments, interpreting meaning, demonstrating propositions, and translating works written in a foreign language. Experience has taught us that education is a cooperative art that is best done with others who can challenge our thinking and open our minds to new ways of seeing the world and making our way in it. The stronger the community of learning, the more opportunity to practice this cooperative art. Once again, experience has taught us that smaller, residential campuses are stronger communities of learning that help to maximize these cooperative opportunities both inside and outside the classroom.
The best educated person today, just as yesterday, is one fully capable of adapting to or taking advantage of changing conditions, precisely because the well-educated adult has integrity of character, a rootedness in essentials, and a self-understanding that makes it possible to live well and consistently in an unpredictable world. That character and self-understanding are best shaped in communities of learning that are concerned more with foundations than with extravagances, more with roots than with branches.
How do liberal arts colleges go about doing this? Consider what they are asked to study. Students at St. John’s College study original works in mathematics and science, language and literature, politics and history, philosophy and theology. All of these books – from Homer to Shakespeare, Plato to Hegel, and Euclid to Einstein -- help students consider the deeply human questions: What kind of world do I live in? What is my place in it? What should I do with my life? How should I live a life that is worthy of my humanity? They then have a lifetime to practice the arts they have learned, to deepen their questions, and to choose with some intelligence the life that suits them best. Boundaries throughout the world are vanishing, and we need our next generation of leaders in every field, in every endeavor, to have been broadly educated across the disciplines rather than narrowly trained.
St. John’s graduates reflect the strengths of all liberal arts college alumni. They enter a broad array of careers, from entrepreneurial endeavors to medicine, law, and teaching. St. John’s College is among the top two percent of all colleges in the percentage of alumni who go on to earn PhDs, and the top four percent of colleges in the percentage of graduates who earn PhDs in science and engineering. These graduates have faced some of the most difficult texts ever written and have acquired intellectual virtues along the way: courage in the face of the unknown and the difficult; candor about their ignorance; industry in preparation; and open attentiveness to the words of their colleagues - all things that will stand them in good stead as they head into the world of work and family, citizenship and service.
Graduates of the nation’s many fine liberal arts institutions are prepared not only for a diverse range of career, but for life.
When asked by Reddit users how growing up with two mothers affected him, Wahl's told them that he has realized when he is asked this question that he is actually being asked what it is like growing up without a father.
"I had to learn how to shave from my best friend's dad. It's something I was briefly bullied about when I was growing up. It made me aware of the whole gay marriage debate--and the effects it might have on my family--from a young age," Wahls said.
A Letter from an Israeli Reserve Soldier by Aron Adler Our young country, built from the ashes of the Holocaust, does not turn its back on humanity.
My name is Aron Adler. I am 25 years old, was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Efrat, Israel. Though very busy, I don't view my life as unusual. Most of the time, I am just another Israeli citizen. During the day I work as a paramedic in Magen David Adom, Israel's national EMS service. At night, I'm in my first year of law school. I got married this October and am starting a new chapter of life together with my wonderful wife Shulamit.
A few weeks out of every year, I'm called up to the Israeli army to do my reserve duty. I serve as a paramedic in an IDF paratrooper unit. My squad is made up of others like me; people living normal lives who step up to serve when responsibility calls. The oldest in my squad is 58, a father of four girls and grandfather of two; there are two bankers, one engineer, a holistic healer, and my 24-year-old commander who is still trying to figure out what to do with his life. Most of the year we are just normal people living our lives, but for 15-20 days each year we are soldiers on the front lines preparing for a war that we hope we never have to fight.
This year, our reserve unit was stationed on the border between Israel, Egypt and the Gaza Strip in an area called "Kerem Shalom." Above and beyond the "typical" things for which we train – war, terrorism, border infiltration, etc., this year we were confronted by a new challenge. Several years ago, a trend started of African refugees crossing the Egyptian border from Sinai into Israel to seek asylum from the atrocities in Darfur. What started out as a small number of men, women and children fleeing from the machetes of the Janjaweed and violent fundamentalists to seek a better life elsewhere, turned into an organized industry of human trafficking. In return for huge sums of money, sometimes entire life savings paid to Bedouin "guides," these refugees are promised to be transported from Sudan, Eritrea and other African countries through Egypt and the Sinai desert, into the safe haven of Israel.
We increasingly hear horror stories of the atrocities these refugees suffer on their way to freedom. They are subject to, and victims of extortion, rape, murder and even organ theft, their bodies left to rot in the desert. Then, if lucky, after surviving this gruesome experience whose prize is freedom, when only a barbed wire fence separates them from Israel and their goal, they must go through the final death run and try to evade the bullets of the Egyptian soldiers stationed along the border. Egypt's soldiers are ordered to shoot to kill anyone trying to cross the border OUT of Egypt and into Israel. It's an almost nightly event.
For those who finally get across the border, the first people they encounter are Israeli soldiers, people like me and those in my unit, who are tasked with a primary mission of defending the lives of the Israeli people. On one side of the border soldiers shoot to kill. On the other side, they know they will be treated with more respect than in any of the countries they crossed to get to this point.
Related Article: Our Soldiers
The region where it all happens is highly sensitive and risky from a security point of view, an area stricken with terror at every turn. It's just a few miles south of the place where Gilad Shalit was kidnapped. And yet the Israeli soldiers who are confronted with these refugees do it not with rifles aimed at them, but with a helping hand and an open heart. The refugees are taken to a nearby IDF base, given clean clothes, a hot drink, food and medical attention. They are finally safe.
Even though I live in Israel and am aware through media reports of the events that take place on the Egyptian border, I never understood the intensity and complexity of the scenario until I experienced it myself.
In the course of the past few nights, I have witnessed much. At 9 p.m. last night, the first reports came in of gunfire heard from the Egyptian border. Minutes later, IDF scouts spotted small groups of people trying to get across the fence. In the period of about one hour, we picked up 13 men - cold, barefoot, dehydrated - some wearing nothing except underpants. Their bodies were covered with lacerations and other wounds. We gathered them in a room, gave them blankets, tea and treated their wounds. I don't speak a word of their language, but the look on their faces said it all and reminded me once again why I am so proud to be a Jew and an Israeli. Sadly, it was later determined that the gunshots we heard were deadly, killing three others fleeing for their lives.
During the 350 days a year when I am not on active duty, when I am just another man trying to get by, the people tasked with doing this amazing job, this amazing deed, the people witnessing these events, are mostly young Israeli soldiers just out of high school, serving their compulsory time in the IDF, some only 18 years old.
The refugees flooding into Israel are a heavy burden on our small country. More than 100,000 refugees have fled this way, and hundreds more cross the border every month. The social, economic and humanitarian issues created by this influx of refugees are immense. There are serious security consequences for Israel as well. This influx of African refugees poses a crisis for Israel. Israel has yet to come up with the solutions required to deal with this crisis effectively, balancing its' sensitive social, economic and security issues, at the same time striving to care for the refugees.
I don't have the answers to these complex problems which desperately need to be resolved. I'm not writing these words with the intention of taking a political position or a tactical stand on the issue.
I am writing to tell you and the entire world what's really happening down here on the Egyptian/Israeli border. And to tell you that despite all the serious problems created by this national crisis, these refugees have no reason to fear us. Because they know, as the entire world needs to know, that Israel has not shut its eyes to their suffering and pain. Israel has not looked the other way. The State of Israel has put politics aside to take the ethical and humane path as it has so often done before, in every instance of human suffering and natural disasters around the globe. We Jews know only too well about suffering and pain. The Jewish people have been there. We have been the refugees and the persecuted so many times, over thousands of years, all over the world.
Today, when African refugees flood our borders in search of freedom and better lives, and some for fear of their lives, it is particularly noteworthy how Israel deals with them, despite the enormous strain it puts on our country on so many levels.
Our young and thriving Jewish people and country, built from the ashes of the Holocaust, do not turn their backs on humanity. Though I already knew that, this week I once again experienced it firsthand. I am overwhelmed with emotion and immensely proud to be a member of this nation.
With love of Israel, Aron Adler, writing from the Israel/Gaza/Egyptian border
Thanksgiving may be the holiday from hell for nutritionists, and it produces plenty of war stories for psychiatrists dealing with drunken family meltdowns. But it has recently become the favorite feast of psychologists studying the consequences of giving thanks. Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners. A new study shows that feeling grateful makes people less likely to turn aggressive when provoked, which helps explain why so many brothers-in-law survive Thanksgiving without serious injury.
But what if you’re not the grateful sort? I sought guidance from the psychologists who have made gratitude a hot research topic. Here’s their advice for getting into the holiday spirit — or at least getting through dinner Thursday:
Start with “gratitude lite.” That’s the term used by Robert A. Emmons, of the University of California, Davis, for the technique used in his pioneering experiments he conducted along with Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami. They instructed people to keep a journal listing five things for which they felt grateful, like a friend’s generosity, something they’d learned, a sunset they’d enjoyed.
The gratitude journal was brief — just one sentence for each of the five things — and done only once a week, but after two months there were significant effects. Compared with a control group, the people keeping the gratitude journal were more optimistic and felt happier. They reported fewer physical problems and spent more time working out.
Further benefits were observed in a study of polio survivors and other people with neuromuscular problems. The ones who kept a gratitude journal reported feeling happier and more optimistic than those in a control group, and these reports were corroborated by observations from their spouses. These grateful people also fell asleep more quickly at night, slept longer and woke up feeling more refreshed.
“If you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep,” Dr. Emmons advises in “Thanks!” his book on gratitude research.
Don’t confuse gratitude with indebtedness. Sure, you may feel obliged to return a favor, but that’s not gratitude, at least not the way psychologists define it. Indebtedness is more of a negative feeling and doesn’t yield the same benefits as gratitude, which inclines you to be nice to anyone, not just a benefactor.
In an experiment at Northeastern University, Monica Bartlett and David DeSteno sabotaged each participant’s computer and arranged for another student to fix it. Afterward, the students who had been helped were likelier to volunteer to help someone else — a complete stranger — with an unrelated task. Gratitude promoted good karma. And if it works with strangers ....
Try it on your family. No matter how dysfunctional your family, gratitude can still work, says Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California, Riverside.
“Do one small and unobtrusive thoughtful or generous thing for each member of your family on Thanksgiving,” she advises. “Say thank you for every thoughtful or kind gesture. Express your admiration for someone’s skills or talents — wielding that kitchen knife so masterfully, for example. And truly listen, even when your grandfather is boring you again with the same World War II story.”
Don’t counterattack. If you’re bracing for insults on Thursday, consider a recent experiment at the University of Kentucky. After turning in a piece of writing, some students received praise for it while others got a scathing evaluation: “This is one of the worst essays I’ve ever read!”
Then each student played a computer game against the person who’d done the evaluation. The winner of the game could administer a blast of white noise to the loser. Not surprisingly, the insulted essayists retaliated against their critics by subjecting them to especially loud blasts — much louder than the noise administered by the students who’d gotten positive evaluations.
But there was an exception to this trend among a subgroup of the students: the ones who had been instructed to write essays about things for which they were grateful. After that exercise in counting their blessings, they weren’t bothered by the nasty criticism — or at least they didn’t feel compelled to amp up the noise against their critics.
“Gratitude is more than just feeling good,” says Nathan DeWall, who led the study at Kentucky. “It helps people become less aggressive by enhancing their empathy. “It’s an equal-opportunity emotion. Anyone can experience it and benefit from it, even the most crotchety uncle at the Thanksgiving dinner table.”
Share the feeling. Why does gratitude do so much good? “More than other emotion, gratitude is the emotion of friendship,” Dr. McCullough says. “It is part of a psychological system that causes people to raise their estimates of how much value they hold in the eyes of another person. Gratitude is what happens when someone does something that causes you to realize that you matter more to that person than you thought you did.”
Try a gratitude visit. This exercise, recommended by Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, begins with writing a 300-word letter to someone who changed your life for the better. Be specific about what the person did and how it affected you. Deliver it in person, preferably without telling the person in advance what the visit is about. When you get there, read the whole thing slowly to your benefactor. “You will be happier and less depressed one month from now,” Dr. Seligman guarantees in his book “Flourish.”
Contemplate a higher power. Religious individuals don’t necessarily act with more gratitude in a specific situation, but thinking about religion can cause people to feel and act more gratefully, as demonstrated in experiments by Jo-Ann Tsang and colleagues at Baylor University. Other research shows that praying can increase gratitude.
Go for deep gratitude. Once you’ve learned to count your blessings, Dr. Emmons says, you can think bigger.
“As a culture, we have lost a deep sense of gratefulness about the freedoms we enjoy, a lack of gratitude toward those who lost their lives in the fight for freedom, a lack of gratitude for all the material advantages we have,” he says. “The focus of Thanksgiving should be a reflection of how our lives have been made so much more comfortable by the sacrifices of those who have come before us.”
And if that seems too daunting, you can least tell yourself —
Hey, it could always be worse. When your relatives force you to look at photos on their phones, be thankful they no longer have access to a slide projector. When your aunt expounds on politics, rejoice inwardly that she does not hold elected office. Instead of focusing on the dry, tasteless turkey on your plate, be grateful the six-hour roasting process killed any toxic bacteria.
Is that too much of a stretch? When all else fails, remember the Monty Python mantra of the Black Plague victim: “I’m not dead.” It’s all a matter of perspective.
By Rabbi David Wolpe On Thanksgiving we are grateful for what we have and mindful of what others lack. It is a good time to ask — what do we really believe? Some people believe in a God who grants good to the one who prays most or behaves best. Such people might wish to read the book of Job, or look out the window; they will discover that ease and anguish are unevenly distributed in this world and follow no discernible pattern of reward. Others think God is completely arbitrary or absent. Such people might be mindful of the abundance of blessing that exists and how much we human beings are responsible for its poor distribution or unfair allotment. Then there are those who find themselves in the third camp — the bewildered believers. They are like Rabbi Nahman, who said he was a 'moon man,' that his faith waxed and waned. Surely Rabbi Nahman would have understood Miguel De Unamuno, the great Spanish philosopher and man of letters: "Those who believe that they believe in God, but without passion in their hearts, without anguish in mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe only in the God idea, not God Himself." Happy Thanksgiving.
What would you pay for a cognition detector, a mechanism that could read thoughts? What would you pay to stop your friends from having one? Socializing just wouldn't be the same if our thoughts became transparent.
Think about that time your colleague congratulated you on an impressive presentation you made. "Naw, I don't think it was any better than the job you did last week," you responded. "Finally he acknowledges that my work is superior to his..." you think. Or about the time your neighbors stops by unexpectedly. "How great of you to come by, we were just talking about you!" you say with a hug. "How rude of you to drop in without calling," you think. "And what are you thinking about my housekeeping?"
It's uncomfortable to be plagued by an ugly thought. It can erode our self-respectThere is often a significant disparity between the words we speak and the thoughts that run through our mind. Like a shiny apple with a rotten core, we often project an image of humility, graciousness and loyalty, while our inner thoughts look surprisingly ugly.
It's uncomfortable to be plagued by an ugly thought. It can erode our self-respect. What kind of person would have thoughts like these? What kind of friend am I to be so jealous? What moral integrity do I have if I scheme sinful thoughts? What kind of self-progress have I made if I'm still plagued by the same demons? Even if we choose not to act upon them, just listening to our dysfunctional thoughts can be severely demoralizing. Who am I fooling with my charade of piety when the real me is still quite crude and pleasure driven?
In the Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812, founder of Chabad chassidism) sheds some optimistic light on dark thoughts. He exposes a conspiracy played out by our yetzer hara (evil inclination). The yetzer hara drops us a thought or an urge that makes us very uncomfortable. Even if we'd never act on the impulse, just sensing its presence is embarrassing and even depressing. And that's exactly where the yetzer hara wants us to be: embarrassed and depressed. Once our spirits are down and our self-confidence is deflated, we're nice and vulnerable for the real attack.
This understanding the yetzer hara's strategy makes it clear that it's always counter-productive to inspect a shameful thought and be disappointed because of it. The key is to simply let it go.
In fact we can actually feel pleased by its arrival.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman takes us to the Zohar, and we listen to a mystical understanding of a conversation that takes place between Isaac and Esau (as recorded in Genesis 27:4). Isaac asks his favorite son to prepare him a meal before he would bless him. "And make me delicacies such as I love," he instructs Esau.
"These words," says the Zohar, "is the message of the Shechinah [Divine Presence] to her children, the Jewish people."
What is the meaning of this Zohar? Why would G‑d ask His people to prepare delicacies? And since "delicacies" is written in plural form, what are the multiple kinds of delicacies that G‑d enjoys?
Rabbi Schneur Zalman explains: There are two types of delectable foods; the first type is naturally sweet and mellow, while the second type is naturally bitter or sour. Take onions—when raw they are painfully sharp to the palate, but sauté them and they'll enhance every dish. Lemons, garlic, ginger, horseradish—they are culinary necessities and add an irreplaceable edge to an entrée.
And G‑d says: Two things give Me pleasure: holy thoughts, and also unholy thoughts—that are ignoredSo, Isaac says, "Make me delicacies"; some sweet, some edgy. And G‑d says to His people: Two things give Me pleasure: holy thoughts, and also unholy thoughts—that are ignored. In fact, when an unholy thought is ignored, says the Zohar, "G‑d's glory rises… more than by any other praise."
Just like G‑d loves perfection, He loves imperfection. He watches in delight as the humiliating thought penetrates our consciousness and we chose to reject it. Not inviting the thought in and not judging ourselves for it, but just simply dropping it and thinking about something else. Apparently this sends G‑d soaring.
Our evil inclination will attack us at our weakest point and make us feel thoroughly dysfunctional before luring us into its world. But with a little meta-cognition we can reverse attack by viewing an ugly impulse as an opportunity to serve G‑d a well-prepared delicacy.
This is not about solidarity with the campers off Wall Street, Bay Street or any other street. It’s not about their manifestos, their motives, their methods, whether it’s the cool thing to do or the Woodstock of this generation. It’s about one thing only: Is there a problem with capitalism today?
And I think there is.
But before I explain why, first let me say this:
From where I’m looking right now, capitalism is good. Very good.
Look at the historical facts: Before commerce, industry and finance began to blossom, children were lucky to live past six years, the average life span was between 25–30 years, all but a small minority lived at bare subsistence levels or less, education was for the elite, and violent death, torture and barbarity was not something you watched on television, but witnessed firsthand on a frequent basis—whether in the name of warfare, crime, justice or entertainment.
Capitalism has been a—if not the—major force in diminishing war between nations and creating tolerance between peoples. It has allowed literally billions more people to share the planet and—percentage-wise—at a much greater standard of living. Today, thanks to capitalism, each year 70 million people leave hand-to-mouth living to become consumers-by-choice—and poverty rates are expected to continue their sharp decline.1 Without capitalism, democracy would never have proven successful, medicine could never have advanced, worldwide humanitarian efforts would be absurd and I would never have been able to compose this editorial and get it out to you so fast.
I’ll go further: Capitalism is not just “the best we got.” Capitalism is inherently good. Because capitalism, at its essence, is saying, “just as the earth can produce value and share that value with others, so too the human being.” Capitalism empowers each one of us.
And therein lies the problem with capitalism today. Because we’re grabbing the husk and leaving the fruit behind.
What went wrong?
Quite simply, we never let go of the crippling idea that equates making business with demonic greed.
And people act according to the role you give them.
There are those professions that society considers noble callings, such as doctors, judges and professors. Society respects them for what they do. Then there are business people. Society respects them, too—but are they respected for what they do, or for what they get? Do we respect their occupation, or do we see them as doing a worthless job—making money out of money?
Where is business respected? Take a look in the Talmud.
In the Talmud you’ll find spiritual and earthly duties lumped together in ways that sends the modern mind spinning:
Rava said, “When a soul stands before the heavenly court, it is asked, ‘Did you buy and sell fairly? Did you fix times for Torah study? Did you attempt to be fruitful and multiply? Did you look forward to the messianic redemption? Did you debate matters of wisdom? Did you understand one thing from another?’”2
Do you see that? Marrying, procreating and making an honest living are good and wonderful occupations—in the same breath as Torah study, gaining wisdom and keeping the faith.
Why? Because they benefit the world. As in the common talmudic term for making a living, that dignified and ennobled phrase, “settling of the world”3 —for, as the prophet states, “G‑d did not create emptiness; He formed a world to be settled upon.”4
Maimonides sums up the Jewish position with strong words:
Anyone who comes to the conclusion that he should involve himself in Torah study without doing work and derive his livelihood from charity, desecrates G‑d's name, dishonors the Torah, extinguishes the light of faith, brings evil upon himself, and forfeits the life of the world to come, for it is forbidden to derive benefit from the words of Torah in this world.
Our Sages declared: "Whoever benefits from the words of Torah forfeits his life in the world." Also, they commanded and declared: "Do not make them a crown to magnify oneself, nor an axe to chop with." Also, they commanded and declared: "Love work and despise Rabbinic positions." All Torah that is not accompanied by work will eventually be negated and lead to sin. Ultimately, such a person will steal from others.5
And so, the laws concerning earning an honest living and thereby making the world a more settled and civil place also belong in the holy books.
The medieval Augustinian view, on the other hand, saw all these as curses of the snake, the product of original sin—since they were directed by man’s evil impulse.6 Such, as well, was the view of the ancient Romans and Greeks, who looked askance at craftsmen, merchants and others who lived by toil.
And so, whereas the Jew saw work as good for the soul and moneymaking as of benefit to everyone involved, the society which enveloped them saw it as a tolerable sin. Not lending money alone, but almost every form of business was labelled “usury”—using someone else for one’s own benefit.7
Life began to change radically when European society adopted the Jewish attitude—that which Weber prudently coined “the Protestant ethic.” The Jews, wrote Montesquieu, “set the stage for the rebirth of European commerce, and with it the beginning of the decline of prejudice and the rise of a more gentle, less ferocious way of life.”8
How It Should Be
And yet, the ancient notion that making business is dirty business lives on.
If I would ask a class of medical students why they chose medicine, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear, “I think I would be fulfilled by a life of healing people.” Not just in 1967, but even today.
If I would ask a class in law school why they chose law, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear “I’m outraged at injustice in the world.” Yes, they are there, bless their souls.
What do I want to hear from the students in business school? I want to hear, “I’m going into commerce and finance because I want to fix the world.”
Because they can—in ways that no one else can. Capitalism brought us to this glorious world where (yes, there are problems, but the fact is) seven billion human lives can share the planet together, and capitalism is the solution to all the problems that come along with that 7b. Yes, we need doctors, we need social activists, we need political leaders dedicated to the welfare of their people. But more than any of those, it’s the manufacturers, the traders, the sellers and the financiers in whose hands the future of our planet rests.
Why? Because capitalism demands consumers, and the impoverished can’t afford to consume. Because capitalism demands an educated workforce, and that education has to start at an early age. Because capitalism demands renewable resources, which unsustainable practices cannot provide. Because capitalism, when done at its very best, benefits not only its shareholders, but all its stakeholders—which is every last one of us sharing this planet.
The highest form of charity, writes Maimonides, is when you give a person a partnership or find him work “…so that his hand will be fortified and he will not have to ask others.”9
Who does that? The entrepreneurs, the financiers, the people out there making business. They are blessed with the capacity to stand a human being on his own two feet, fishing rod and all—billions of human beings—and say, “Your life is in your hands.”
I can’t think of anything the world needs today more than a generation of idealist, foresighted, noble capitalists.10
Getting back to the garden
So have the tent-dwellers in Zuccotti Park got it right or wrong? As in most cases, probably both. You see, the change that’s needed is not the change that most imagine. It’s not the demise of capitalism we need, but its redemption. We need to stop equating finance with greed and start seeing it as a noble calling. And, as consumers, we need to demand it from our industries.
We need to teach that in our schools—and not just business school: Children in pre-school have to learn that firemen put out fires, doctors heal boo-boos, and people do business so they can share good things with others.
We need to give them that role, and learn to expect it from them.
One of the sitters, a 53-year-old carpenter by the name of Thomas Fox, seems to have gotten it right. As he explained to a journalist:
It's a Jeffersonian based political party uniting the youth of the world together. The key phrase is this, which Thomas Jefferson wrote to Madison, ‘the earth belongs in usufruct to the living.’ What usufruct means is stewardship. It means the older generation has a duty to turn over the earth and the financial system in a better situation than they got it.
Somewhat reminiscent of that line in Genesis, where the CEO of this universe places us in His garden “to serve it and to protect it.” In other words, to make His world even better.
At Woodstock we sang that we “have to get ourselves back to the garden.” Whether or not the occupiers of Wall Street have the same thing in mind, the garden is here now and waiting.
FOOTNOTES 1. Goldman Sachs, Global Economics Paper No:170, page 5. 2. Talmud Shabbat 31a 3. See Sanhedrin 24b; Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Sefer Mishpatim, Edut, 10:4, and the Kesef Mishnah ad loc: A person who is not occupied in “settling the world” is most likely engaged in thievery and cannot be trusted. 4. Isaiah 45:18 5. Mishneh Torah, Sefer Madah, Hilchot Talmud Torah, 3:10 6. The Jewish sages, on the other hand, cite the verse from Psalms (128:2), “If you eat by the toil of your hands, you are praiseworthy, and it is good for you.” From this they understand that the reward for working for a living supercedes even the merit of “fear of heaven.” He who fears heaven has a reward in the world to come, but he who eats by the toil of his hands receives a reward in this world as well (Talmud Berachot 8a). The curse that resulted from original sin added the element of toil to that work, but the work itself is not a curse, but part of the human being’s original purpose on earth—as mentioned at the end of this essay. 7. On this topic, see Jerry Muller, Capitalism and the Jews, Princeton University Press. 8. Montesque, Spirit of the Laws (1748), part 4, book 20, chapter 1. 9. Mishneh Torah, Sefer Zeraim, Hilchot Matnot Aniyim, 10:7 10. If you think I’m the only one saying this, see Michael Porter and Mark Kramer, “The Big Idea—Creating Shared Value,” subtitled “How to reinvent capitalism and unleash a wave of innovation and growth” in Harvard Business Review, January, 2011. Also, a timely book by Joseph Bower, Herman Leonard and Lynn Paine, “Capitalism at Risk: Rethinking the Role of Business.” My idea that business should be seen as a “noble profession” is taken straight out of Cavico and Mujitaba, “The state of business schools, business education and business ethics” in the Journal of Academic and Business Ethics, vol. 2, July 2009.
Is it a sin to argue with G-d? Is it sacrilegious to question the Divine? Well, Abraham did it. Not for himself, but on behalf of the people of Sodom, whom G-d had decided to destroy because of their wickedness. Abraham was the paragon of chesed, the personification of kindness and compassion. He grappled with the Almighty, attempting to negotiate a stay of execution for the inhabitants of the notorious cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
"Will you destroy the righteous with the wicked?" he asks G-d. "Will the judge of all the earth not do justice?" "If there are 50 righteous men, will you spare them? 45? 40... 30... 20... 10?" In the end, Abraham cannot find even a minyan of righteous men in the cities and he gives up. And then the verse reads, V'Avraham shov l'mkomo -- "And Abraham went back to his place." Having failed in his valiant attempt, he acknowledges defeat and retreats to his corner.
But there is also an alternative interpretation to those last words. And Abraham went back to his place can also be understood to mean that he went back to his ways, to his custom. And what custom is that? To defend the underdog, to look out for the needy and to help those in trouble, even if they are not the most righteous of people. Abraham refused to become disillusioned in defeat. He went right back to his ways, even though this particular attempt did not meet with success.
What happens when we lose? We hurt, we sulk, and we give up. It didn't work, it's no use. It's futile, why bother? Just throw in the towel.
Not Abraham. Abraham stuck to his principles. He may have experienced a setback, but he would still champion the cause of justice. He would still speak out for those in peril. And he would still take his case to the highest authority in the universe, G-d Almighty Himself.
Abraham teaches us not to lose faith, not to deviate from our chosen path or our sincerely held convictions. If we believe it is the right thing to do, then it is right even if there is no reward in sight. If it is right, then stick to it, no matter the outcome.
One of my favorite cartoon characters is good old Charlie Brown in Peanuts. In one strip that sticks in my memory there is a storm raging outside and Charlie Brown is determined to go out to fly his kite. His friends tell him he must be crazy to attempt flying a kite in this weather, it'll be destroyed by the wind in no time. But in the last frame we see Charlie, resolutely marching out the door, his kite firmly tucked under his arm, and the caption reads, "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do."
Do we believe in our principles of faith because of expediency? Are we virtuous because we believe it is the way to the good life? Are we waiting for the big payoff for our good behavior? What happens when we don't see it? Do we become frustrated, disillusioned and angry at G-d?
Some people become religious for the wrong reasons. They are looking for some magical solution to their problems in life. And when the problems don't disappear as quickly or as magically as they expected, they give up their religious lifestyle. It didn't work; I'm outta here.
Virtue is its own reward. Sleeping better at night because our conscience is clear is also part of the deal. Or, in the words of the Sages, "the reward for a mitzvah is the mitzvah."
Our founding father reminds us that a Jew's gotta do what a Jew's gotta do, regardless of the outcome. Whether we see the fruits of our labors or not, if it's the right thing to do, then carry on doing it.
Wealth & the Occupy Wall Street Movement by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Rich people are not the enemy.
I wish the Occupy Wall Street movement would be a little clearer about what they're protesting.
Even as it continues to grow and gain followers outside of New York, with satellite protests in more than 60 American cities as it threatens to go global, the demonstrators still haven't directly identified their enemy.
And before I can make up my mind whether or not I support them, I think they need to tell us whether this is more about money or morality.
Related Article: Holy Money
What troubles me is that much of the anger of the protesters seems to be fueled by a sentiment about wealth that Judaism long ago rejected. There have always been people who believed that spirituality demands that we forsake materialism. Rich people are wicked by definition. Accumulating a great deal of money is a sin.
But from a Jewish perspective, wealth is not ignoble; it presents us with precious opportunities. When Abraham first discovered God and gave the gift of monotheism to the world, we're told that he was divinely rewarded with prosperity. The philosopher Philo had it right when he summed up the Jewish sentiment in these words: "Money is the cause of good things to a good man, of evil things to a bad man."
From time immemorial Jews have recognized that their mission in life is to improve the world. They were also realistic enough to realize that a great deal of good they were required to perform on this Earth can only be fulfilled with adequate financial resources. Helping the poor, assisting the community and its needs, building synagogues and houses of study, and supporting friends, family, neighbors – all these mitzvahs require money in order to properly perform them.
In a beautiful Midrash, we’re told that when Moses was commanded to count the Jews by means of their contributing a half Shekel, Moses was baffled. He didn't understand. Then God showed him “a coin of fire" and his mind was put at rest.
What was so difficult to grasp that caused Moses to be confused? Did Moses need to be shown an actual coin before he could understand the meaning of half a Shekel? And what was the point of showing him a coin of fire?
The rabbinic commentary is profound and beautiful. The reason Moses was perplexed was because he couldn't believe that for counting Jews something so seemingly non-spiritual and materialistic would be used. How could money play a role in defining Jews and holiness?
The answer was to show him a coin of fire. Fire has two seemingly contradictory properties. Fire destroys, but it also creates. Fire may burn, but it can also cook, warm, and serve the most beneficial purposes. Money and fire are related. Wealth may destroy those who possess it but it can also be the source of the greatest blessing. Precisely because it has this quality, it becomes doubly holy. When we choose to use a potentially destructive object in a positive and productive manner, we have learned the secret of true holiness.
Twice a day Jews recite the line that defines our faith. "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The words that follow define how we are supposed to express that belief through our actions. The original Hebrew from the Torah is often mistranslated, "with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might." The more correct reading for the last phrase is "and with all your wealth."
Having a great deal of money isn't a problem. Not knowing what to do with it is what causes almost all of our difficulties. And spending it correctly is the challenge we face throughout our lifetimes that will best determine whether we can face our final judgment with confidence.
“Show me your checkbook stubs,” said the noted psychologist, Erich Fromm, “and I’ll tell you everything about yourself.” Self-indulgence or selflessness? Wine, women, and song or charitable works? Hedonism or helping others? Forsaking God because you no longer need Him or feeling more spiritually connected out of gratitude for your good fortune?
For those whose crusade against Wall Street is synonymous with a vendetta against all those with wealth, there needs to be recognition of the great good accomplished by many of those who've been blessed with prosperity. Just because someone has "made it" doesn't make him a villain. To add the adjective "filthy" to the word rich in signs hoisted by Occupy Wall Street protesters is to unfairly castigate those who God may have rewarded because they're wise enough to work on His behalf in creating a better world.
We could all learn much from Michael Bloomberg, the self-made billionaire founder of the Bloomberg financial information firm and New York Mayor, who for two years in a row was the leading individual living donor in the United States, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy. He recently said he intends to give away most of his fortune, because “the best measure of a philanthropist is that the check he leaves to the undertaker bounces.” And that will insure that he dies a very happy man.
Capitalism isn't only about accumulating more and more money. Just a few years ago TIME named Bill and Melinda Gates as its “Persons of the Year.” Gates, a Wall Street superstar, was acknowledged as one of the most influential people in the country – not because of how much money he has but because of how much of it he is willing to give away. He came to the conclusion that greed isn’t meant to be our goal in life.
Having made more money than he will ever need, he has one more vision that drives him. He would love to convince world business leaders that being socially responsible isn’t just altruism but sound business practice. Gates says he has learned that greed is self-defeating. It destroys the very people who make it their god.
Today Gates is spearheading a drive to get the super wealthy to publicly commit themselves to giving away most of their fortunes for charitable purposes – and Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and one of the world’s wealthiest men, among others has signed on to this noble endeavor.
When the Occupy Wall Street crowd talks about cleaning up corruption, when it points a finger at all those whose financial recklessness plunged the country into the Great Recession, when it gives voice to the anger we all feel at the perpetrators of highly immoral business practices that hurt millions of innocent victims – for all of these righteous causes they deserve our unqualified thanks.
It's only when they confuse anyone who is wealthy with the enemy that I think we need to remind them that just as much as the poor don't deserve to be despised for their poverty, the rich don't deserve to be hated simply because they have money.
I think this does a really great job of showing what it like to attend SJC. How much fun it was and how frustrating it was.
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/17/education/17stjohn.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print October 16, 2011 Seeing Value in Ignorance, College Expects Its Physicists to Teach Poetry By ALAN SCHWARZ ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Sarah Benson last encountered college mathematics 20 years ago in an undergraduate algebra class. Her sole experience teaching math came in the second grade, when the first graders needed help with their minuses.
And yet Ms. Benson, with a Ph.D. in art history and a master’s degree in comparative literature, stood at the chalkboard drawing parallelograms, constructing angles and otherwise dismembering Euclid’s Proposition 32 the way a biology professor might treat a water frog. Her students cared little about her inexperience. As for her employers, they did not mind, either: they had asked her to teach formal geometry expressly because it was a subject about which she knew very little.
It was just another day here at St. John’s College, whose distinctiveness goes far beyond its curriculum of great works: Aeschylus and Aristotle, Bacon and Bach. As much of academia fractures into ever more specific disciplines, this tiny college still expects — in fact, requires — its professors to teach almost every subject, leveraging ignorance as much as expertise.
“There’s a little bit of impostor syndrome,” said Ms. Benson, who will teach Lavoisier’s “Elements of Chemistry” next semester. “But here, it’s O.K. that I don’t know something. I can figure it out, and my job is to help the students do the same thing. It’s very collaborative.”
Or as St. John’s president, Chris Nelson (class of 1970), put it with a smile only slightly sadistic: “Every member of the faculty who comes here gets thrown in the deep end. I think the faculty members, if they were cubbyholed into a specialization, they’d think that they know more than they do. That usually is an impediment to learning. Learning is born of ignorance.”
Students who attend St. John’s — it has a sister campus in Santa Fe, N.M., with the same curriculum and philosophies — know that their college experience will be like no other. There are no majors; every student takes the same 16 yearlong courses, which generally feature about 15 students discussing Sophocles or Homer, and the professor acting more as catalyst than connoisseur.
What they may not know is that their professor — or tutor in the St. John’s vernacular — might have no background in the subject. This is often the case for the courses that freshmen take. For example, Hannah Hintze, who has degrees in philosophy and woodwind performance, and whose dissertation concerned Plato’s “Republic,” is currently leading classes on observational biology and Greek.
“Some might not find that acceptable, but we explore things together,” said Ryan Fleming, a freshman in Ms. Benson’s Euclid class. “We don’t have someone saying, ‘I have all the answers.’ They’re open-minded and go along with us to see what answers there can be.”
Like all new tutors, Ms. Benson, 42, went through a one-week orientation in August to reacquaint herself with Euclid, and to learn the St. John’s way of teaching. She attends weekly conferences with more seasoned tutors.
Her plywood-floor classroom in McDowell Hall is as almost as dim and sparse as the ones Francis Scott Key (valedictorian of the class of 1796) studied in before the college’s original building burned down in 1909. Eight underpowered ceiling lights barely illuminated three walls of chalkboards. While even kindergarten classrooms now feature interactive white boards and Wi-Fi connected iPads, not one laptop or cellphone was visible; the only evidence of contemporary life was the occasional plastic foam coffee cup.
The discussion centered not on examples and exercises, but on the disciplined narrative of Euclid’s assertions, the aesthetic economy of mathematical argument. When talk turned to Proposition 34 of Book One, which states that a parallelogram’s diagonal divides it into equal areas, not one digit was used or even mentioned. Instead, the students debated whether Propositions 4 and 26 were necessary for Euclid’s proof.
When a student punctuated a blackboard analysis with, “The self-evident truth that these triangles will be equal,” the subliminal reference to the Declaration of Independence hinted at the eventual braiding of the disciplines by both students and tutors here. So, too, did a subsequent discussion of how “halves of equals are equals themselves,” evoking the United States Supreme Court’s logic in endorsing segregation 2,200 years after Euclid died.
Earlier in the day, in a junior-level class taught by a longtime tutor about a portion of Newton’s seminal physics text “Principia,” science and philosophy became as intertwined as a candy cane’s swirls. Students discussed Newton’s shrinking parabolic areas as if they were voting districts, and the limits of curves as social ideals.
One student remarked, “In Euclid before, he talked a lot about what is equal and what isn’t. It seems here that equality is more of a continuum — we can get as close as we want, but never actually get there.” A harmony of Tocqueville was being laid over Newton’s melody.
The tutor, Michael Dink, graduated from St. John’s in 1975 and earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. in philosophy from the Catholic University of America. Like most professors here, he long ago traded the traditional three-course academic career — writing journal articles, attending conferences and teaching a specific subject — for the intellectual buffet at St. John’s. His first year included teaching Ptolemy’s “Almagest,” a treatise on planetary movements, and atomic theory. He since has taught 15 of the school’s 16 courses, the exception being sophomore music.
“You have to not try to control things,” Mr. Dink said, “and not think that what’s learned has to come from you.”
This ancient teaching method could be making a comeback well beyond St. John’s two campuses. Some education reformers assert that teachers as early as elementary school should lecture less at the blackboard while students silently take notes — the sage-on-the-stage model, as some call it — and foster more discussion and collaboration among smaller groups. It is a strategy that is particularly popular among schools that use technology to allow students to learn at their own pace.
Still, not even the most rabid reformer has suggested that biology be taught by social theorists, or Marx by mathematicians. That philosophy will continue to belong to a school whose president has joyfully declared, “We don’t have departmental politics — we don’t have departments!”
Anthony T. Grafton, a professor of history at Princeton and president of the American Historical Association, said he appreciated the approach.
“There’s no question that people are becoming more specialized — it’s natural for scholars to cover a narrow field in great depth rather than many at the same time,” he said. “I admire how St. John’s does it. It sounds both fun and scary.”
I have posted this before but we read it every Yom Kippur and I always find it very moving/
Prayer of an Unknown Confederate Soldier I asked God for strength, that I might achieve; I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey. I asked for health, that I might do greater things; I was given infirmity, that I might do better things. I asked for riches, that I might be happy; I was given poverty, that I might be wise. I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men; I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God. I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life; I was given life, that I might enjoy all things. I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for. Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered. I am among all men most richly blessed.
Since the announcement of a deal in which Israel will be releasing as many as 1000 security prisoners (many with blood on their hands) in exchange for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit (who has been held in Gaza for 5 1/2 years), many have come out publicly either for or against the deal.
Many Israelis are experiencing some combination of relief and delight that a soldier son who has been held prisoner for so long will finally be returned to the family and nation that fought and prayed so hard for his release.
But understandably, many israeli families who have lost loved ones in terror attacks perpetrated by those slated for release, have been quite vocal in their objection to the deal. They have even gone so far as to file petitions asking the Israeli supreme court to block the release of the murderers.
Like many, I can honestly say that I understand and agree with both positions.
But it was my synagogue's rabbi who was finally able to help me gain the proper perspective for viewing this deal.
He said that he too was torn about whether this deal was an acceptable one, much less a good one. But then he realized that it was impossible to decide by looking at it from the viewpoint of either the bereaved families of terror victims or the bereaved family of a kidnap victim.
He said that we are reminded many times by our sages that all of Israel is responsible for one another. He posits that this means that we are obligated to view ourselves as one large family rather than a nation of families, and must make decisions based on that viewpoint.
He didn't tell us whether he favored or disapproved of the deal. But he said it was made clear to him what the right course of action would be once he looked at the situation, not from one family or the other... but rather when he looked at it as if he were a parent of a single family who had had one child killed in a terror attack, and a second child kidnapped and awaiting ransom.
That, he told us, is the only way the nation of Israel can begin to contemplate such a terrible choice.
My Son the Doctor-Murderer by Sara Yoheved Rigler Unconditional love and the holiday of Sukkot.
Nava’s doctor killed a woman. Not by malpractice. The woman was claiming that her baby was Dr. X’s child. He got fed up with her, went with a loaded gun to her apartment, and murdered her. Dr. X is now serving a life sentence in an Israeli jail for first degree murder.
Nava knew that people could make dramatic turn-arounds because in her own life she had transformed herself from non-religious Israeli to observant Jew. So she visited her former doctor in prison in order to encourage him to do teshuva [repent]. Dr. X was totally uninterested. All he wanted to talk about was how angry he was at his mother because she refused to visit him in prison.
Nava related this story at our family Shabbat table. It led to a lively discussion. I took the mother’s side. A human being is, I contended, the aggregate of his actions. A person who does good is good, while a person who commits evil deeds is evil. Why should his mother, who had given him a high level of education and every opportunity to become a mensch and an asset to society, visit a son who had willfully chosen to murder someone in cold blood?
Other guests at the Shabbos table disagreed. “What about unconditional love?”
I never got the concept of “unconditional love.” It’s not true that “you are what you eat.” Rather, “you are what you do.” How can you love your son the murderer? Your son the rapist? What exactly are you loving in the miscreant?
I have only one son, who was born when I was 46 years old after five years of intensive fertility treatments. Of course, I adore him and lavish on him love and attention. Many months after the discussion about the doctor convicted for murder, my son, then 14 years old, got into trouble in school. We got a phone call from the rabbi in charge recounting my son’s offense. With my volatile nature, I ordinarily would have let into my son, but my husband calmed me down and coached me on what to say when he came home from school.
“I thoroughly disapprove of what you did,” I told him, “but I still love you.”
My son’s impassioned response almost knocked me off my chair: “But you wouldn’t visit me in prison!”
Apparently he had taken in more of that long-ago conversation than I had realized. Now he was saying loud and clear: Your love has its limits. If I really misbehaved, if I did something terrible, you wouldn’t love me. Your conditional love for me isn’t good enough.
Since honesty had always characterized our relationship, I could offer no soothing platitudes. I shook my head and admitted, “No, if you murdered someone, I wouldn’t visit you in prison.”
This “wouldn’t visit you in prison” touchstone became a pebble in the shoe of our relationship. At regular intervals he threw it up to me. I realized that my profuse love for my son was like being allowed to live in a gorgeous home — complete with swimming pool and gym — but with the insecurity of knowing you could be evicted at any time. I would have to learn to love my child unconditionally, but how?
Rabbi Efim Svirsky once gave a class-cum-meditation in my home. He guided the assembled women to induce a meditative state, then asked us to experience “God is here now.” Check. I did it easily.
Next, he asked us to experience, “God loves you.” Check. I feel it all the time.
Lastly, he asked us to experience, “God loves you unconditionally.” Gulp. I ran into a stone wall.
My problem, I realized, is that I had no experience of unconditional love. My mother no doubt loved me unconditionally, but my father always loomed larger in my life. He was 44 years old when I, his only daughter, was born. He adored me and showered me with love. And I gave him good reason to. I brought home straight-A report cards, won a prestigious essay contest, got into the National Honor Society, was President of my synagogue youth group, was accepted at several top colleges, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude. My father was always, as my mother put it, “bursting his buttons” with pride at my accomplishments.
But what if I had no accomplishments? Would he still love me as much? I never dared think about that frightening “what if.”
When Rabbi Svirsky asked us to experience God’s unconditional love, however, I realized that I had to go deeper. Does God love me because of my accomplishments? No, God loves me because my soul is a spark of God’s own luminous Divinity. Just as a mother loves her newborn, sans accomplishments, because the baby is part of her, so God loves us because our soul essence is part of God. I was wrong in my contention that a person is the aggregate of his actions, like an onion that has no core. A person is, in essence, his core, his Divine soul. One’s actions are the layers of curtains that surround the soul, sometimes becoming so opaque and dark that they obscure the soul’s light entirely. But God made a covenant with our forefather Jacob that He would never allow a Jewish soul to fall below the point of irredeemability. That spiritual essence, what we call the pintele Yid, is always worthy of unconditional love.
After working to make this concept real in my mind and heart, one day I sat my son down and announced, “I would visit you in prison even if you committed murder. I’m there.”
He smiled broadly. Our relationship made a quantum leap up.
By fulfilling the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah during the holiday of Sukkot, a Jew is literally surrounded by the Shechina, the feminine Presence of God. This is generally conceived as the “reward” for the repentance the person undertook during the Rosh Hashana-Yom Kippur period. Now that the soul is cleansed of its dross, the person can dwell in God’s presence in the sukkah.
But what if a person fails to repent? We are taught that for a person to attain atonement on Yom Kippur, the person must have passed through the stages of teshuvah: admitting, regretting, and resolving to change (plus, if he hurt another person, seeking that person’s forgiveness). What if a person did teshuvah on some misdeeds, but not others? Or didn’t do teshuvah at all? Then he enters the sukkah with his misdeeds still clinging to his soul, as if dressed in filthy, stinking rags. Is such a soul still visited by the Shechina when sitting in the sukkah?
The answer is “Yes!” There are no admission criteria to the sukkah. You don’t have to have an “I-did -teshuvah ticket” to get in. The feminine Divine Presence descends and hovers over and around the sukkah, whether it is inhabited by saints or sinners. And since this gross physical dimension is often in Jewish parables considered a prison for the soul, that means that during Sukkot God’s “Mother aspect” visits Her child the sinner in prison.
As you sit in the sukkah this week, think about that and feel God’s unconditional love.
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My son’s little pudgy hands pulled on my skirt, and his huge teary eyes pulled on my heart. It was the fourth day of preschool, but he still was scared to be there without me.
These moments are so hard for a mother. Of course I knew that I was doing what was good for him, but seeing him so tormented tied my stomach up in doubt.
“I want to be with yoooooooooooooou!” he pleaded.
An idea sparked.
There are moments that are ultimately for our good, but are excruciatingly hard to go throughI kneeled down in front of him and asked me to hand me his backpack. Sniffling, he shrugged it off and shoved it into my hand. Unzipping the bag a few inches, I created a small hole.
“Look,” I said softly, “This morning I put a sandwich and carrot sticks in your bag, so that you won’t be hungry. Do you know what I am going to put in now? Kisses! And hugs! And smiles! Lots and lots of them! When you begin to feel sad in school, then you just open up the bag a little bit and put your cheek on the hole, and kisses and hugs will fly at you!”
His eyes brightened, and he couldn’t help but smile, revealing the tiniest little teeth that always remind me of little square soup nuts.
I kissed and kissed into the opening while he giggled. Then I smiled into the bag, hugged it tight, and zipped it up. My son, looking much braver, took my hand and we began to walk together.
As we walked, I listened to the morning songs of the birds, and felt the early sun caress my skin, and it occurred to me that we all essentially have a backpack on our backs. Ours have been packed by G‑d.
G‑d sends us out into this earthly world, where we can’t see Him or hear Him. There are moments that are ultimately for our good, but are excruciatingly hard to go through. Whether it is the stress of waiting a week for an emergency MRI appointment, or the pain of saying goodbye to a loved one forever, sometimes it feels as if He has abandoned us, and we shrivel up in fear. Even in those bleak moments, if we look around us, we will find millions of His “kisses” in every moment of every day. Sometimes it is a helpful neighbor who saves the day, sometimes it is a child’s laugh. Maybe it is a starry sky, or the smell of an overflowing jasmine plant. Whatever the kiss may look or feel like, it is a moment when we are comforted and encouraged, when we feel that the world is perfectly wonderful and that we have so much to be happy for.
Maimonides gave us a guaranteed way to arouse the affection between ourselves and our Creator. It’s called nature. Examining an autumn leaf or the structure of a banana is enough to instill awareness of the Creator’s greatness. A moss-covered rock, a line of marching ants—we are surrounded by boundless miracles. Read about one day in life of a human embryo, and you will find your mouth hanging open in awe. Allowing ourselves to see nature’s wonders will open us up to feeling grateful and loved by the One who is behind it all.
Examining an autumn leaf or the structure of a banana is enough to instill awareness of the Creator’s greatnessOne hiker testified that his first time feeling G‑d in his life was when he stood at the top of a mountain overlooking Doubtful Sound, a fjord in New Zealand. At that moment he realized that the Creator of this spectacular place created him too, and he owed it to himself to find out why.
Sukkot. We leave the wallpapered concrete and ceramic tiles of our home, and move out to nature. Outside, we can hear the leaves dancing in the wind, and see the stars sparkling between the branches of the sechach that covers our sukkah. The crickets sing a lullaby to those falling asleep on a mattress in the sukkah, and the dew kisses them awake at sunrise. Out in the world that G‑d created for the pleasure of mankind, mankind can shake away the indifference to His love and begin to reciprocate.
“I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me, the Shepherd of roses.” Why “the Shepherd of roses”? Since when do roses need shepherding? Do they stray away like sheep or goats? King Solomon’s hidden message to us is that when we make ourselves into roses, He is our Shepherd. A rose is a symbol of freshness, of love that is alive and thriving. If a rose is not fresh, it is not beautiful; when the relationship between man and his Creator is not fresh and alive, then it is like a withered rose. We, the Jewish people, are forever in the stage of newly opened buds: always questioning, learning and thinking, to deepen our lives and connection to what is real.
There was a time when people would spend every evening of the days before Yom Kippur (and especially just before Yom Kippur) pondering their sins, their faults, and just everything wrong, bad and crummy about themselves. They would cry and sob from their hearts, fall asleep weeping, and then they would get up the next morning with a pure soul to serve their Maker. They often did this on other days of the year, and it worked pretty good then too.
Nowadays, when someone ponders his failures, it almost inevitably leads to depression. When pondering a past sin, a person starts asking himself why he did such a stupid thing, remembers what a geshmak1 it was, and ends up doing more.
So what happened? Quite simply, the darkness got thicker. When you’re surrounded by light, it’s okay to stick your nose into a few dark corners—maybe you’ll find something valuable you lost in there. But when you live in a world with the lights dimmed and all the blinds pulled down, dark corners become black holes with relentless gravitational pull. Pondering your sins, you may just come to the conclusion that you actually enjoyed them.
That’s why repentance is so darn dangerous nowadays. When someone calls me up and says, “Rabbi, I messed up! How do I repent?” I tell them, “Repentance? Stay away from that stuff! It’s hazardous!”
So they say, “But rabbi, what am I gonna do about this sin messup deal in my life?”
And I tell ’em, “Just start running towards the light.”
“But then I’ll never do the repentance thing, like it says in all those books, about deep remorse and weeping over your sins.”
“Right now, forget the remorse and the weeping. Just get past it! It’s a trap. It’s your nasty, self-destructive snake inside trying to take you for lunch. And you’re the lunch.”
“No, rabbi, no! I gotta repent!”
“You don’t want to repent. You want a replay!”
“A replay. Okay, I’ll explain: When your mind experiences something pleasurable, it’s programmed to go replay it again and again, until it rewires all its neurons, readies the limbic system and has the entire endocrine system on board. That way, when the associated stimuli turn up again, by sight, smell, sound or whatever, your entire visceral person is primed to lunge for it like a hawk.
“But you won’t let your mind replay this particular messup, because you know it was real immoral, bad and crummy. So your mind, being just as smart as you are—since it is your mind after all—comes up with a solution: It says, ‘I don’t want a replay. I want to repent.’ Well, you don’t. You want a replay. Nothing to do with repenting.”
And you say: “But when will I rip away all the ugly stuff clinging to me because of this lousy thing I did?” The brain will do anything to get its replay. Even convince you to repent.
And I answer: “So don’t repent. Do teshuvah instead.”
“That’s what I said I want to do!”
“No, you said you wanted to do repentance. I’m telling you to do teshuvah. That means “return.” Return towards the light from which your soul originally came. When you are running towards the light, filling your life with more wisdom, more understanding, more mitzvahs; more joy, love and beauty; and the light is getting brighter and brighter, and you want to reach out and talk directly, sincerely with your G‑d . . .
“. . . that’s when it hits you that the crummy messup from the past is holding you back, like a useless backpack weighing you down, like a lump of clay in your heart, like a wall between you and the true place of your soul. That’s when a genuine, aching remorse overcomes you, just swelling up all on its own from the bottom of your heart. That’s when you scream, ‘Get off my back!’
“You look behind for a sec, throw that junk away, and fly ahead. That’s when you repent. But not until then.”
During the ten days from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, there’s a lot of light. Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. Don’t go wasting that away. Especially, don’t go spending the holiest time of the year dwelling on stupid things you did. Why waste the holiest day of the year dwelling on everything you messed up?
Instead, reach towards the light. Feel the presence of an Infinite G‑d, Creator of all things, who awaits your return to Him, with love.
And as you return, let that messy, gunky stuff just fall away, never to come back again. ’Cause you’ll never want it back again, once you’ve felt the embrace of His light.
Yom Kippur is a special time in Israel; everything is silent and cars don't drive on the roads. It's a time for forgiveness and when we look back at the past year and reflect on how we can be better people in the year to come. It's also a time when we remember the fallen of the Yom Kippur War when Arab armies led by Egypt and Syria interrupted the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar and invaded Israel in 1973. We wish our Jewish friends an easy and meaningful fast from all our team in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Wolpe From Maimonides (1135-1204), the greatest Jewish philosopher and legal scholar: "One must not be cruel by refusing an apology; he should be easily pacified, and provoked with difficulty. When an offender asks his forgiveness, he should forgive wholeheartedly and with a willing spirit. Even if he has caused him much trouble wrongfully, he must not avenge himself, or bear a grudge. This is the way of Israel and their upright hearts." An ideal to aspire to on these ten days of repentance.
Rabbi Wolpe The Kotzker Rebbe taught that God fashioned a great ladder and on this ladder people climb down from heaven to earth. When we reach this world the ladder is drawn up and we are told to get back to heaven. Most give up because there is no ladder. Some leap but quickly become discouraged. Others leap and leap, knowing that if God sees their effort, God will reach down in mercy and lift them up to the presence of the Divine. So what is our task, asked the Kotzker? We must be leaping souls.
The United Nations is being asked to grant the Palestinians the status of a “state,” for at least some purposes. The question arises what kind of a state will it be? In an effort to attract Western support, the Palestinian Authority claims that it will become another “secular democratic state.” Hamas, which won the last parliamentary election, disagrees. It wants Palestine to be a Muslim state governed by Sharia Law.
We know what the Palestinian leadership is saying to the West. Now let’s look at what its saying to its own people, who will, after all, be the ultimate decision makers if Palestine is indeed a democracy.
The draft constitution for the new state of Palestine declares that “Islam is the official religion in Palestine.” It also states that Sharia Law will be “the major source of legislation.” It is ironic that the same Palestinian leadership which supports these concepts for Palestine refuses to acknowledge that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people. Israel, in contrast to the proposed Palestinian state, does not have an official state religion. Although it is a Jewish state, that description is not a religious one but rather a national one. It accords equal rights to Islam, Christianity and all other religions, as well as to atheists and agnostics. Indeed, a very high proportion of Israelis describe themselves as secular.
The new Palestinian state would prohibit any Jews from being citizens, from owning land or from even living in the Muslim state of Palestine. The Ambassador of the PLO to the United States was asked during an interview whether “any Jew who is inside the borders of Palestine will have to leave?” His answer: “Absolutely!” After much criticism, the Ambassador tried to spin his statement, saying that it applied only to Jews “who are amid the occupation.”
Whatever that means, one thing is clear: large numbers of Jews will not be welcome to remain in Islamic Palestine as equal citizens. In contrast, Israel has more than 1 million Arab citizens, most of whom are Muslims. They are equal under the law, except that they need not serve in the Israeli army.
The new Palestine will have the very “law of return” that it demands that Israel should give up. All Palestinians, no matter where they live and regardless of whether they have ever set foot in Palestine, will be welcome to the new state, while a Jew whose family has lived in Hebron for thousands of years will be excluded.
To summarize, the new Palestinian state will be a genuine apartheid state. It will practice religious and ethnic discrimination, it will have one official religion and it will base its laws on the precepts of one religion. Imagine what the status of gays will be under Sharia law!
Palestinian leadership accuses Israel of having roads that are limited only to Jews. This is entirely false: a small number of roads on the West Bank are restricted to Israelis, but they are equally open to Israeli Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. The entire state of Palestine will have a “no Jews allowed” sign on it.
It is noteworthy that the very people who complain most loudly about Israel’s law of return and about its character as the nation state of the Jewish people, are silent when it comes to the new Palestinian state. Is it that these people expect more of Jews than they do of Muslims? If so, is that not a form of racism?
What would the borders of a Palestinian state look like if the Palestinians got their way without the need to negotiate with Israel? The Palestinians would get, as a starting point, all of the land previously occupied by Jordan prior to the 1967 War, in which Jordan attacked Israel. This return to the status quo that led to the 6 Day War is inconsistent with the intention of Security Council Resolution 242, which contemplated some territorial changes.
The new boundaries of this Palestinian state would include Judaism’s holiest place, the Western Wall. It would also include the access roads to Hebrew University, which Jordan used to close down this great institution of learning founded by the Jews nearly 100 years ago. The new Palestinian state would also incorporate the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, in which Jews have lived for 3000 years, except for those periods of time during which they were expelled by force.
It is contemplated, of course, that Israel would regain these areas as part of a land swap with the Palestinians. But there is no certainty that the Palestinians would agree to a reasonable land swap. Palestinian leaders have already said that they would hold these important and sacred sites hostage to unreasonable demands. For example, the Western Wall covers only a few acres, but the Palestinian leadership has indicated that these acres are among the most valuable in the world, and in order for Israel to regain them, they would have to surrender thousands of acres. The same might be true of the access road to Hebrew University and the Jewish Quarter.
When Jordan controlled these areas, the Jordanian government made them Judenrein—Jews could not pray at the Western Wall, visit the Jewish Quarter, or have access to Hebrew University. There is no reason to believe that a Palestinian state would treat Jews any differently if they were to maintain control over these areas.
An Apartheid, Islamic, Judenrein Palestine on the 1967 borders is a prescription for disaster. That is why a reasonable Palestinian state must be the outcome of negotiations with Israel, and not the result of a thoughtless vote by the United Nations.
The Palestinians and Israeli leaders are now in New York. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered to sit down and negotiate, with no preconditions, a realistic peace based on a two-state solution. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas should accept that offer, which will actually get the Palestinians a viable state rather than a cheap paper victory that will raise expectations but lower the prospects for real peace.
After six months of working for the company, it’s time for your evaluation. You walk into the boardroom, where three designer-suit-clad personnel managers are sitting behind a mahogany desk. The one on the left scans your file, looks up at you accusingly, and says, “I see here that you did not report for work at 9 am one time during this entire period.”
The woman in the middle shakes her head and remarks, “This is a Fortune 500 Company. Instead of a jacket and tie, you report for work wearing jeans.”
The man on the right stares at the papers in his hand and says grimly, “Our surveillance cameras show that you spend less than 10% of your working hours at your desk. The rest of the time you’re walking around the building.”
The first evaluator shoots the question: “Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
“Yes," you reply with confidence, "I was hired as the night watchman.”
Rosh Hashanah is a time of evaluation. But to accurately assess your performance this year, you have to know your job description. Judaism asserts that every soul comes into this world charged with a unique, positive purpose.
According to the great 16th century Kabalistic master known as the Arizal, no one has ever or will ever come into this world with the exact same mission as yours. The light you are meant to shine into the world is yours alone, as individual as your fingerprint, as personal as your voiceprint.
Your mission can be interpersonal, such as counseling couples with troubled marriages, or scholarly, such as researching ancient Chinese culture, or an expression of your talent, such as painting landscapes or playing the violin. It can be concrete, such as establishing a home for Alzheimer’s patients, or abstract, such as manifesting in the world the Divine attribute of truth or patience. It can be on a large scale, such as inaugurating the recycling system in your city, or on a small scale, such as caring for your handicapped child with joy. You may have two, or at most, three different missions, which can be consecutive (after finishing one job you start another) or simultaneous. Yet, even if there are 500 marriage counselors in your city, your particular approach and way of helping people is unique. Not one of us can be replaced—ever.
Related Article: 20 Questions for the New Year
Identifying Your Mission
Imagine you are an undercover agent sent into Iran. You’ve had years of training, have two vital contacts in Tehran, and are equipped with the latest hi-tech spy gadgetry. Only one thing is lacking: You have no idea what your mission is.
Many of us go through life like that: We follow the route laid out by society: going to college, finding a job, getting married, raising a family, but with no clear sense of the unique mission entrusted to us. We are pulled in many different directions, feeling compromised in what we do and guilty for what we don’t do. Identifying our mission is, according to Rabbi Aryeh Nivin, the first step in leading a life of vibrancy and joy. “When you intersect with your life’s purpose,” he explains, “you feel excitement.”
Knowing your personal mission is essential preparation for Rosh Hashanah. On Rosh Hashanah God apportions to each of us life, health, livelihood, and everything else. What is your plan for how you propose to use the life God gives you? The CEO is not going to dole out a million-dollar budget to an employee who doesn’t have a carefully worked out proposal.
We are used to praying for life, health, and livelihood as ends in themselves. In the Divine accounting, however, life, health, and livelihood are simply the tools – the hi-tech spy gadgetry – that will enable you to accomplish your mission.
Rabbi Nivin offers two methods for discovering your mission:
Ask yourself (and write down): What were the five or ten most pleasurable moments in my life? Ask yourself: If I inherited a billion dollars and had six hours a day of discretionary time, what would I do with the time and money? When answering the first question, eliminate the universal transcendent moments, such as witnessing the beauty of nature or listening to music. Your mission, of course, may have to do with nature or music, but on a much more individual level than the high all people feel when they see the Grand Canyon. Although your mission may require hard work or genuine sacrifice, when you are engaged in your life’s mission you experience, as Rabbi Nivin puts it, “This feels so good that I could do it all day long.”
When I did the first exercise, these are the answers I came up with:
When someone in my Johannesburg audience came up after I spoke and told my son, “Your mother’s words changed my life.” When someone tells me, “Your book changed my life.” When reading the comments to my Aish.com articles, I see, “This was exactly what I needed to read today.” When I see that the reader’s way of thinking or acting is impacted by what I wrote. When someone passing through Israel (often on the way to India) comes to talk to me about Judaism, and two or five or ten years later I find out that they stayed in Jerusalem, starting learning Torah, and are observing the mitzvot. When my children mention that they talked to God about something bothering them and I realize that their relationship with God is strong. The common theme that emerged for me was that my mission is: “To inspire people, through writing and speaking, to move forward in their spiritual/personal development and relationship with God.” That’s what excites and energizes me. That’s why, to my friends’ amazement, when I am lecture touring, I can speak in five different cities in five days, waking up at dawn every day to make an early flight and giving a three-hour workshop twice a day, and, at 63 years old, never feel tired. Knowing my mission is like installing an energy pack in my life.
Barbara Silverstein is a wife, mother, and hospice nurse. When talking to me recently about her “life’s mission,” she shrugged. Although her personal and professional lives are fraught with difficulties, she soldiers on with dedication and integrity. I asked her what she would do if she had loads of money and six hours a day of discretionary time. Barbara thought for a few minutes, then replied with passion: “I would set up a Jewish outreach center for the elderly. In my work with the terminally ill, I’m always facing men or women who are about to lose their spouse and they say to me, ‘I don’t know what I’ll do about the funeral. I don’t have a rabbi.’ They want a spiritual connection with their Jewish roots, but they’re clueless about how to do it.” The more that Barbara talked, the more fervent she became.
“So that’s your mission,” I told her, “to establish a Jewish outreach center for the elderly. That’s real pioneering work. No one else has done it.”
“Are you kidding?” Barbara replied. “Between my family and my work, I don’t have time for anything else.”
Remembering Rabbi Nivin’s advice, I suggested: “Take a half hour twice a week, and sit down with a pen and paper, and just start brainstorming. Write down whatever comes to your mind, what the first steps would be, and what you want it to look like in the end. And ask the Almighty for help in making it happen. He can give you whatever He deems you should have. And then see if the opportunity to take the next step emerges.”
Two weeks later, Barbara phoned me, brimming with excitement. “This has really gotten my imagination going,” she effused. “Everything I’ve learned throughout my life is coming in handy with this plan. I don’t know if it’ll ever amount to anything, but just thinking about it is like an electrical charge in my whole day. My husband and kids ask me why I’m smiling so much.”
The Creator has outfitted you with a unique set of aptitudes, talents, and interests perfectly suited to what you are charged with accomplishing. By following your inclinations and abilities, you may already have found your mission. Sometimes your mission is deposited in your lap, such as the birth of a special needs child. The National Tay-Sachs Association, for example, was founded by the parents of children suffering from Tay-Sachs; the parents’ daunting challenge metamorphosed into their life’s mission.
If your mission is not yet clear to you, take a half hour between now and Rosh Hashanah and reflect on, “What do I really want to do with my life?” Perhaps you work full time developing software for Microsoft, but you’ve always felt a tug to write a book about internet addiction. Perhaps your greatest pleasure is tending your vegetable garden in suburban Detroit, but you’ve always dreamed of living on an agricultural settlement in Israel. Such inner urges may be whisperings from God, the secret message from Headquarters disclosing your true mission.
Guilt, Respect, Validation
Clarity about your mission dissipates guilt for all the worthy endeavors you’re NOT engaged in. Once you realize that you’re in this world to develop a new healing modality for autism, you won’t feel guilty that you’re not volunteering for the local soup kitchen or marching on the U.N. to protest anti-Israel discrimination.
Once I identified my mission, I stopped feeling guilty that I really don’t like to cook for myriads of Shabbat guests. I also understood why I love writing for Aish.com and its spiritually upwardly mobile readers, while I resigned from writing for a women’s magazine that features how to fold napkins and sculpt vegetables.
The concept of each person having an individual life’s mission is a key to respecting other people. Otherwise, you may feel that what’s important to you should be important to everyone. You’re an environmental activist? You may blame your sister for being oblivious to the environment without appreciating that her mission is to fight Holocaust denial. You belong to a group that feeds the homeless? You may find it reprehensible that that other group is apparently heedless to the homeless and spends all their time in pro-Israel activism on campus. Being able to say, “This is my mission and that is theirs,” is the gateway to true tolerance and respect.
Knowing your individual mission validates your life and releases you from the pernicious habit of comparing yourself to others. Jonah Salk’s mark on the world may seem as deep as a crater while your taking care of your handicapped brother may seem like a fingernail impression, but from a spiritual perspective the light you are shining into the world is unique and is exactly the light you came here to radiate.
One more point: Fulfilling your individual life’s mission does not exempt you from your global missions, such as supporting your family or raising your children. Starting an outreach center for the elderly may have to wait until your children are grown. Writing that book on internet addiction may have to be tucked into your few spare hours after your full-time job. Don’t worry. The God who assigned you your mission will make sure you have everything you need—including time now or later—to fulfill it.
So when the shofar sounds this Rosh Hashanah and you stand for your annual evaluation, be prepared to declare, “This is my job, and I’m working on it.”
I call today upon heaven and earth as witnesses for you. I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. And you shall choose life, so that you and your children may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)
Do we really need the Torah to tell us to choose life? Which person of sound mind would choose death?
One possible answer is that one must make a conscious decision to live and not just vegetate. And I don’t mean to live it up by living life in the fast lane. To “choose life” means to choose to live a meaningful life, a life committed to values and a higher purpose. Did it make any difference at all in that I inhabited planet Earth for so many years? Will anyone really know the difference if I’m gone? Is my life productive, worthwhile?
It is told that when the fist Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, wanted to bless Reb Yekutiel Liepler with wealth, he declined the offer, saying that he was afraid it would distract him from more spiritual pursuits. When the rebbe then offered to bless him with longevity, Reb Yekutiel stipulated that it should not be “peasant’s years, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear, where one neither sees nor senses G‑dliness.”
Reb Yekutiel was rather fussy, it seems. The holy rebbe is offering him an amazing blessing, and he is making conditions! Yes, he chose life, and he chose to live a life that would be purposeful and productive, and that really would make a tangible difference. He wasn’t interested in a long life if, essentially, it would amount to an empty life.
As we stand just before Rosh Hashanah, let us resolve to choose life. Let us live lives of Torah values and noble deeds. And may we be blessed with a good and sweet new year.
By Yossy Goldman
I call today upon heaven and earth as witnesses for you. I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. And you shall choose life, so that you and your children may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)
Do we really need the Torah to tell us to choose life? Which person of sound mind would choose death?
One possible answer is that one must make a conscious decision to live and not just vegetate. And I don’t mean to live it up by living life in the fast lane. To “choose life” means to choose to live a meaningful life, a life committed to values and a higher purpose. Did it make any difference at all in that I inhabited planet Earth for so many years? Will anyone really know the difference if I’m gone? Is my life productive, worthwhile?
It is told that when the fist Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, wanted to bless Reb Yekutiel Liepler with wealth, he declined the offer, saying that he was afraid it would distract him from more spiritual pursuits. When the rebbe then offered to bless him with longevity, Reb Yekutiel stipulated that it should not be “peasant’s years, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear, where one neither sees nor senses G‑dliness.”
Reb Yekutiel was rather fussy, it seems. The holy rebbe is offering him an amazing blessing, and he is making conditions! Yes, he chose life, and he chose to live a life that would be purposeful and productive, and that really would make a tangible difference. He wasn’t interested in a long life if, essentially, it would amount to an empty life.
As we stand just before Rosh Hashanah, let us resolve to choose life. Let us live lives of Torah values and noble deeds. And may we be blessed with a good and sweet new year.
Today, perhaps more than ever before in history, there is a desperate need for an objective, responsible international body capable of peacefully arbitrating conflicts, enforcing human rights and mitigating the more negative forces of globalization.
In theory, the United Nations, as an international body with over 190-member nations, has all the requisite resources needed to perform this crucial function.
Indeed, it could take significant measures to fight violations of human rights in countries such as China, Russia, North Korea, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Zimbabwe or Sudan. In the field of diplomacy and security the UN could be conducive to formulating peaceful resolutions of conflicts in the Middle East and in Africa.
Unfortunately, instead of being a positive force for tikkun olam, the UN has failed miserably to rise to the many moral challenges faced by humanity in the 21st century.
Two UN-sponsored events taking place at the end of this week in New York City – the Durban III Conference and the UN General Assembly vote on Palestinian statehood – provide instructive examples of how the UN has allowed itself to be hijacked by forces inimical to peace and human rights.
Durban III is envisioned as a commemoration of the 10- year anniversary of the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa.
Though ostensibly about the promotion of human rights, Durban I (followed in 2009 by Durban II) quickly deteriorated into anti-Israel hate fests. Sessions were characterized by Trotskyist anti-Zionism, Iranian-inspired conspiracy theories and a flood of anti-Semitic slanders.
Protocols of the Elders of Zion were freely handed out together with Islamist, leftist anti-globalist propaganda referring to Israel as a racist, theocratic and apartheid state.
The Durban Conference declaration singled out the Jewish state for censure. Israel was the only UN member specifically mentioned in the context of human-rights abuses (though it did recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace) and criticized “occupation” of Palestinian land.
That declaration will be reaffirmed during Durban III, with the backing of the G-77, a bloc of developing states created after the breakup of colonialism, many of which are Muslim.
Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly, slanted by the same G-77 bloc, is expected to vote in the near future in favor of the creation of a Palestinian state. As Ben-Gurion University historian Benny Morris has noted, the UN is essentially helping the Palestinians to implement a strategy first adopted by Yasser Arafat in the late 1980s.
After realizing Israel could not be destroyed in war, Arafat set about establishing a Palestinian state encompassing the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip without making peace with Israel or forfeiting any Palestinian demands, such as the “right of return.”
Unfettered by a peace treaty, this mini-Palestinian state would be free to continue its struggle against Israel. Petitioning the International Criminal Court against alleged Israeli crimes as an “occupier” might be one aspect of the struggle, while launching rockets and missiles on Israeli towns from the West Bank – like the ones fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza or Hezbollah-controlled south- Lebanon – might be another.
Palestinians are already planning to march on security check-points and settlements in the West Bank after the UN General Assembly vote, which could provoke an Israeli response and lead to violence.
But the UN appears unperturbed by Israel’s legitimate security concerns and oblivious to the fact that only a negotiated peace settlement based on mutual concessions and recognition can resolve the conflict.
Instead, the UN seems obsessed with singling out Israel for condemnation.
According to UN Watch in Geneva, the Human Rights Council has adopted, since its founding in 2006, about 70 resolutions condemning specific countries – 40 of which have been against Israel.
In the General Assembly, about 20 anti-Israel resolutions are adopted each year, as opposed to just five or six against other countries.
Its nearly pathological fixation on Israel, coupled with its refusal to acknowledge real crimes against humanity elsewhere, has invalidated the UN as a forum for healing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
More tragically, it has wasted its potential as an international force for good and as a promoter of tikkun olam.
It had been a busy six days, even for the King of the universe. The earth and all its contents—well, that was accomplishment enough. But the galaxies and rules governing their orbit—sun, moon and stars, and that concept of infinite space. He was particularly proud of that. Just imagine! The garden and its two occupants on planet Earth dwelled not in a boxed enclosure, but in nothingness. No beginning, no end, no top, no bottom. It had to be that way, since the universe was the mind of the Creator, and no one should stretch out his hand and touch that boundary. Thus was mystery introduced into the world.
Now, at the end of this sixth day, He would rest. And so, with great satisfaction, He surveyed His handiwork and meditated on all that He had done. It was flawlessly complete. At least, as complete as He intended it to be. Several ragged edges were purposely left unfinished. The creature called “man” must have some mission besides mere survival.
It was flawlessly complete. At least, as complete as He intended it to beBut what was that squeak, that dim voice from below? It was the human He had made. It was addressing Him, its Creator. It was asking for His attention.
“Master, Creator, are you up there? Can you hear me?”
“I, who can hear a grasshopper land on a blade of grass, can certainly hear my most favored creation when he calls out for me. Speak,” roared the L‑rd G‑d of creation.
“Beg your pardon, Sir, but You forgot something.” This was before the dialogues with Abraham and Job and the prophets. He was the architect of the universe, and this puny voice out of a structure that He had engineered was accusing him of carelessness. Impudence of the highest degree!
“I know You imbued your creation with hate, because Cain threw a sharp stick at me. I beg of you that when you issue your rules, it would be helpful to include one commanding our offspring to honor us, the nurturing parents. And Sir, You forgot love. May I ask that of You? We humans need love, or we shall treat each other like the animals. You took great care with the mechanism whereby we nourish ourselves. A great job, Sir. And you marvelously designed the tools of procreation so that, like the muskrats and elephants, we could prolong our species. It seems to work splendidly. Already, two rabbits have grown to two hundred, and it works wonderfully with mosquitoes, too. They swarm everywhere and feed off my flesh, but as I surveyed the garden I noticed an unpleasant truth. Some of the creatures who existed on that first day no longer walked upon the garden’s mossy turf. I think I counted more rabbits yesterday. I think the wolves are eating the rabbits.”
The L‑rd listened with divine patience. Later, did He not endure forty years of official complaints from the stiff-necked Children of Israel? He answered with controlled brevity. “Ah, you finally discovered the flaw in creation. Know that it is yours to correct. What exactly do you think is missing?”
“It is difficult to explain, Sir,” said Adam, for he was voicing the complaint that something that should be within us is missing. “A feeling of kindness, of warmth, plainly was lacking in the animals. And humans, too. I know it is missing because I do not have it for the woman—is that the right word?—you made for me. It’s like a warm feeling in the chest.
And without hesitation, He bestowed love upon His human creatures. Not too much. It was their responsibility to fill the void“It is not necessary—this feeling—for me and the woman to make more of us. I know, wait. I know how to explain it. It is like the feeling you have for us. In a lesser degree, of course, but it would be constructive if we had that glow for our fellow creatures, like the new one that the woman carries in her stomach. Please, Sir, bestow upon us that warmth. I call it love.”
“It must come from you,” boomed the Master of the universe. “Even I have not the power to bestow it upon you. It is the blemish I left for you to cure. I was waiting for you to notice this absence.”
But the L‑rd was proud of His creation and His wisdom. And without hesitation, He bestowed love upon His human creatures. Not too much. It was their responsibility to fill the void. And He imbued a small dose even into the beasts. Some inherited much, some a little.
Consequently, given the effectiveness of the procreation mechanism and the L‑rd’s granting of Adam’s wish, His breed still walks upon the earth. And on Eden’s green fields, the wolves, sometimes, lie down with the rabbits.
Can one plan to be blessed? Obviously, we believe that when we live life as G-d intended us to, we will find or lives blessed in many ways. Even if we do not always see the results tangibly or immediately, we certainly are aware of many blessings that come with the territory of leading a G-dly life. But there is a verse in our Parshah, which promises us blessings we never even dreamed of.
If you will listen to the voice of G-d... and observe the commandments... All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you... (Deuteronomy 28:2)
What does it mean that blessings will overtake you? Rabbi Ovadia Sforno, one of the classic Biblical commentators, suggests that it means you will be blessed even when you made no effort to seek those blessings. It will come out of the blue, an unexpected windfall.
"How do you know that your livelihood's in that direction and you're running after it? Perhaps it lies in the opposite direction..." The story is told of the saintly Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev that he once saw a young man running down the street. The Chassidic master stopped him and asked, "Where are you running?" The fellow answered, "To make a living, rabbi." To which the Berditchever responded, "So how do you know that your living lies in that direction and you're running after it? Perhaps your livelihood is to be found in the opposite direction, and you're running away from it?"
Do we ever know for sure? How often do the best laid plans of mice and men come to naught? Haven't we all had the experience of trying our hardest to do a deal, and yet with all the planning and strategizing nothing whatsoever materialized? And on the other hand, there may have been times when we put no work into it at all and suddenly from nowhere we landed the deal of the year? The truth is we don't know where the blessing of our livelihood lies.
Our soul may hear something on a higher plane and it filters down And so it is with spiritual blessings. There are times when we make the effort and remain uninspired and there are times when we become inspired effortlessly. According to the Baal Shem Tov, our unconscious soul may hear something on a higher plane and it filters down to our conscious soul and we are touched, moved or inspired.
We live in an era of much confusion. Many are lost, floundering about in spiritual wildernesses. But many are finding themselves too. There have been many who didn't necessarily go looking for G-d but G-d found them. "How did you get inspired?" "To tell you the truth, I'm not really sure. I was minding my own business and I bumped into this Rabbi." Or, "I was sitting next to this fellow on the plane..." If you feel the spirit overtaking you, slow down Or, "I was just a tourist at the Western Wall but something moved me." Everybody has a story. In some stories we went looking for G-d, in others He came looking for us.
So if you feel the spirit overtaking you, don't speed up. Slow down. Let it catch up with you. May the blessings of G-d overtake you and transform your life.