I have the privilege of being in Florence this Shabbat to celebrate the Shabbat Chatan, and wedding on Sunday, of a lovely couple who I’m marrying here. However, I’m very sorry to miss our other celebration of love and want to wish Adam Grant and his fiancé Georgine Waller a huge mazal tov on their upcoming wedding, next week.
Perhaps a bit off-topic, but for this week’s ATfTh, I wanted to share with you a small project I did at the request of one of our members, Simon Rickman– who is a career coach and counselor. He uses Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Successful People often, and asked if they had any correlation in Jewish sources- below is my approach to it:
The critical thing to this first point to me is the idea of knowing what you are responsible for, and what you aren’t. Tarfon phrases it globally– ‘the work’ to be done is partially yours to do, but you can’t do everything. By realising that you must find a middle ground between ignoring the task all together and trying to do it alone, you begin to identify the ways in which you can be responsible, accountable, and proactive about your life.
The end result– is considered first in thought.
This line from the poem, Lekha Dodi, which serves as the centre of the Friday night prayer service, expresses a key notion in Jewish mysticism. For Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), the relationship between the end and the beginning is more complex than it seems. Famously, mystics describe the end result of something and the first thought of it as being ‘like a flame bound to a coal’. That is, one cannot be without the other. This isn’t deterministic per se, but rather an acknowledgement that our thoughts can structure outcomes which themselves are hard to conceive of.
The day is short but the task is great. (Mishnah Avot 2:15)
This quote, also from Rabbi Tarfon, is an apt reminder of the necessity of identifying priorities. As there isn’t enough time to do everything, we have to be thoughtful and careful to focus our energies on the things that matter.
Rabbi Shim’on ben Elazar said: Do not try to appease your friend during his hour of anger; Nor comfort him at the hour while his dead still lies before him; Nor question him at the hour of his vow; Nor strive to see him in the hour of his disgrace. (Mishnah Avot 4:18)
This teaching from R’ Shimon ben Elazar helps to remind us of the idea of friendship and fellowship, as it should be. All of the situations described are those when one is vulnerable (anger, mourning, vowing, disgrace), and all are those in which the cynical friend could curry favour and swoop in to take advantage. That kind of friendship is transactional and not collaborative, and in some way, what R’ Shimon is saying is that we shouldn’t gain any benefit for ourselves at the expense of others, especially not those we consider friends.
Do not judge your fellow until you have come to stand in their place. (Mishnah Avot 2:4)
This teaching from Hillel is one of many incarnations of the popular aphorism not to ‘judge someone until you’ve walked in their shoes.’ The interesting distinction here is that for Hillel, he is not discussing walking in someone’s shoes (ie. taking the same journey they did) but rather standing where someone else has stood. That is a matter of perspective- to judge someone you have to be able to see what they see from the place that they stand.
Blessed are You, God, Ruler of the Universe, who diversifies all Creation.
This is one of the many blessings (berakhot) ordained by our Sages to be recited at particular times. In this case, the blessing above is meant to be said whenever one sees someone who looks different– whether because of an abnormality, an unfamiliar feature, or a previously unseen skin tone. The fact that our tradition suggests that in those moments of shock and sometimes fear, we need to take a moment to stop and bless the diversity of creation, demonstrates the importance of recognising and appreciating difference.
בֶּן בַּג בַּג אוֹמֵר, הֲפֹךְ בָּהּ וַהֲפֹךְ בָּהּ, דְּכֹלָּא בָהּ.
Ben Bag-Bag says: Turn it around and around, for all is within it. (Mishnah Avot 5:22)
This enigmatic quote from the curiously-named Ben Bag-Bag is about the Torah of course. Turn it round and round, see it from a new point of view, add new things to your learning– and eventually you’ll find everything in it. This encouragement and acceptance of the importance of re-learning and revisiting is critical to the development of individuals and communities, lest they get stuck in seeing or doing things a certain way, ‘because that’s how we’ve always done it’.