Archive for the '2 The Book of Exodus' Category

Like a Reed: We Need Agility for Creativity

It is hard to be be creative when your world is falling a part. But in so many ways this is the story of Passover. In many ways when we think about creative breakthroughs we focus on the paradigm shifting moments like the splitting of the Red Sea, but for me I find a lot more inspiration from a different, more subtle, image by the water. I am very moved by the image of Miriam standing in the bulrushes. There we read:

When she could hide him no longer, she got a wicker basket for him and caulked it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. And his sister stationed herself at a distance, to learn what would befall him. The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe in the Nile, while her maidens walked along the Nile. She spied the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to fetch it. When she opened it, she saw that it was a child, a boy crying. She took pity on it and said, “This must be a Hebrew child.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a Hebrew nurse to suckle the child for you?”

Exodus 2: 3-7

It is noteworthy that it is Miriam, Moshe’s sister, and not Yocheved, Moshe’s mother, who is waiting in the bulrushes. Miriam has an idea as to what might happen. She put that idea into the world. When she saw Batya come forward she jumped in and improvised and got her mother in to care for her brother.

People often talk about necessity being the mother of invention, but I believe it is the ability to take a risk and be creative that is actually the sister of invention. Miriam had an idea and then she shifted on the fly to meet the changing needs. If she were too committed to her plan it would have broken like a cedar. Indeed Miriam is not just standing among the reeds, but as a reed.

To be creative we do not need to split the Red Sea, we just need to put ideas out there with confidence without knowing how our offering will be received. We need to let go of our rigidity. If we are too close to ideas we will not be agile enough to allow the idea to morph and flex. To be creative we need to be flexible like a reed. As we learn in the Talmud, “A man should always be gentle as the reed and let him never be unyielding as the cedar.” (Ta’anit 20a-b)

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Merry π Day

Amidst the continued downward spiral and ongoing severity of world events, I needed a break to connect to something stable, constant, even if irrational. On the occasion of March 14th, we celebrate π Day on 3.14. Here is a very informative TED talk on the topic:

While we need to claim that we had it first, I was fascinated to find out recently how long ago our people engaged with this idea of Pi. Way back when in the book of Kings we learn about the Molten Sea or Brazen Sea. This was a large basin in the Temple in Jerusalem made by Solomon (990- 931 BCE)  for ablution of the priests. It stood in the south-eastern corner of the inner court. We read:

The structure of the laver stands was as follows: They had insets; and on the insets within the frames were lions, oxen, and cherubim. Above the frames was a stand; and both above and below the lions and the oxen were spirals of hammered metal. Each laver stand had four bronze wheels and [two] bronze axletrees. Its four legs had brackets; the brackets were under the laver, cast. Its funnel, within the crown, rose a cubit above it; this funnel was round, in the fashion of a stand, a cubit and a half in diameter. On the funnel too there were carvings. But the insets were square, not round. And below the insets were the four wheels. The axletrees of the wheels were [fixed] in the laver stand, and the height of each wheel was a cubit and a half. The structure of the wheels was like the structure of chariot wheels; and their axletrees, their rims, their spokes, and their hubs were all of cast metal. Four brackets ran to the four corners of each laver stand; the brackets were of a piece with the laver stand. At the top of the laver stand was a round band half a cubit high, and together with the top of the laver stand; its sides and its insets were of one piece with it. On its surface—on its sides—and on its insets [Hiram] engraved cherubim, lions, and palms, as the clear space on each allowed,-d with spirals round about.

I Kings 7: 28- 36

Here is an artistic representation of what it might have looked like:

An artist’s rendition of the Molten Sea

The biblical description that the bowl has a diameter of 10 cubits and a circumference of 30 cubits suggest that in the construction of the basin, π was approximated with the integer value 3. This is consistent with the practice in Babylonian mathematics at the time (6th century BC), but it has given rise to debate within rabbinical Judaism from an early period due to the concern that the biblical text might here be inaccurate. Rabbi Nehemiah in the 2nd century argued that the text is not claiming that π equals 3, but that instead the Israelites measured the diameter from the outside edge of the rim of the bowl. After accounting for the width of the brim—”about an hand breadth”—this results in a ratio closer to the true value of π.

The Vilna Gaon pointed to the fact that the word for measuring line in the respective verses (1 Kings 7:23, 2 Chronicles 4:2) is written in two different ways, as קוה and קו. That hints to two different measures. If the Hebrew letters are read as numbers, the first form of the word for measuring line adds to 111 and the second form to 106. The relation i.e. the quotient of these two measuring tapes is 1.0472. And if this number, the relation of these two measuring tapes, is multiplied with Solomon’s simple π of 3, the result reads: 3.1416, much closer to the exact value of π.

It is easy to dispute all of these apologies for π, but sometimes amidst the chaos it is comforting to find meaning in things that are predictably irrational.

Facing Out: Dr Paul Farmer z’l and the Cherubim

Yadid, our oldest, is turning 18 this week. It seems that just yesterday he had the cherubic face at the top of this blog.

All of my children all still my little angels, even if they are bigger than me. Where did the time go?

Despite or because Yadid has to shave more regularly I got to thinking about the Cherubim that we read about in VaYakel, this week’s Torah portion. Amidst a description of the construction of the Aron, Holy Ark, we learn about the top of it. There we read:

He made two cherubim of gold; he made them of hammered work, at the two ends of the cover: one cherub at one end and the other cherub at the other end; he made the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at its two ends. The cherubim had their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. They faced each other; the faces of the cherubim were turned toward the cover.

Exodus 37:7-9

This is at once our most holy image and one which is just too hard to understand. Why are they facing each other? On this the Talmud says:

Rabbi Kattina said: Whenever Israel came up to the Festival, the curtain would be removed for them and the Cherubim were shown to them, whose bodies were inter-twisted with one another, and they would be thus addressed: Look! You are beloved before God as the love between man and woman.

Yoma 54.

It must have been amazing for those three times a year for the Cherubim to touch, but what of the rest of the year? It must have seemed like the Cherubim are perpetually caught in a state of yearning for each other. Rabbi Kattina’s Cherubim spent much of the year frozen, facing inward, and reaching out to each other.

I was thinking about this image as it juxtaposes an image we see in this week’s haftarah, had we read if it was not Shabbat Shekalim. There we learn about the Molten Sea or Brazen Sea. This was a large basin in the Temple in Jerusalem made by Solomon for ablution of the priests. It stood in the south-eastern corner of the inner court. We read in the haftrah:

The structure of the laver stands was as follows: They had insets; and on the insets within the frames were lions, oxen, and cherubim. Above the frames was a stand; and both above and below the lions and the oxen were spirals of hammered metal. Each laver stand had four bronze wheels and [two] bronze axletrees. Its four legs had brackets; the brackets were under the laver, cast. Its funnel, within the crown, rose a cubit above it; this funnel was round, in the fashion of a stand, a cubit and a half in diameter. On the funnel too there were carvings. But the insets were square, not round. And below the insets were the four wheels. The axletrees of the wheels were [fixed] in the laver stand, and the height of each wheel was a cubit and a half. The structure of the wheels was like the structure of chariot wheels; and their axletrees, their rims, their spokes, and their hubs were all of cast metal. Four brackets ran to the four corners of each laver stand; the brackets were of a piece with the laver stand. At the top of the laver stand was a round band half a cubit high, and together with the top of the laver stand; its sides and its insets were of one piece with it. On its surface—on its sides—and on its insets [Hiram] engraved cherubim, lions, and palms, as the clear space on each allowed,-d with spirals round about.

I Kings 7: 28- 36

Here is an artistic representation of what it might have looked like:

The Molten Sea being a big laver. Beyond the connection between this and the ark both being instruments of the Mishkan/Temple, they both have cherubim. That is an interesting connection. What is more interesting to me is their differences. While on the Ark the cherubim are inward facing, here on the Molten Sea they and and the rest of the menagerie are facing out. What do we make of this difference?

I was thinking about this difference this last week when I heard of the passing of Dr Paul Farmer z’l. Farmer a pioneer in global health died this week at the age of 62. In is the award-winning book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Pulitzer-prize-winning author Tracy Kidder he described Farmer as “the man who would cure the world”. In reading this book it was impossible not to be moved by Farmer’s heroic effort to bring health care to rural Haiti. There Kidder writes:

And I can imagine Farmer saying he doesn’t care if no one else is willing to follow their example. He’s still going to make these hikes, he’d insist, because if you say that seven hours is too long to walk for two families of patients, you’re saying that their lives matter less than some others’, and the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that’s wrong with the world.

Mountains Beyond Mountains

The book’s title comes from a Haitian proverb, which is usually translated as: “Beyond the mountains, more mountains.” According to Farmer, a better translation is: “Beyond mountains there are mountains.” The phrase expresses something fundamental about the spirit and the scale and the difficulty of Farmer’s work. The Haitian proverb, by the way, is also a pretty accurate description of the topography of a lot of Haiti.

The life and legacy of Dr. Paul Farmer is to look over the next mountain to that next life to save. The cherubim on the ark were facing inward. While this is tender, sweet, intimate, and needed, it is not enough. We also need to balance that with the Molten Sea facing outward and pushing us to heal a broken world. We are not meant to wash our hands of the problems of the world, but rather be inspired by the memory of Dr Paul Farmer to be ever vigilant and expend every effort to traverse the next mountain to meet those needs.

As my little angel prepares to leave home, I see him turning his attention from the world within to his role in the larger world. I am excited to see his impact on the world.

No Soap Radio : Being on the Inside of Learning

No soap radio” is a form of practical joke and an example of surreal comedy. The joke is a prank whereby the punch line has no relation to the body of the joke; but participants in the prank pretend otherwise. The effect is to either trick someone into laughing along as if they “get it” or to ridicule them for not understanding. While I never found these jokes particularly funny, they do bring to light the nature of humor is that is creates or defines a group. Does a joke define a group by including or excluding people?

I was thinking about this question when reading the start of parshat Ki Tisa, this week’s Torah portion. There we see the Israelites are told to contribute exactly half a shekel of silver to the Sanctuary. Instructions are also given regarding the making of the Sanctuary’s water basin, anointing oil and incense. “Wise-hearted” artisans Betzalel and Aholiav are placed in charge of the Sanctuary’s construction. There we read:

The Lord spoke to Moshe: See, I have singled out by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Yehudah. I have endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft

Exodus 31:1-3

What was this quality of being “wise-hearted” or having a “divine spirit”? At some level this speaks to a notion of intuition or artistic imagination that they had. About Betzalel we learn later when explaining how Betzalel understood something that God told Moshe better than Moshe. Rashi quotes the Gemara in Berachot:

Moshe said to him [Beztalel], “You were in the shadow of God [בְּצֵל אֵל, which is the meaning of Bezalel’s name. I.e., you are right], for surely that is what the Holy One, blessed be God, commanded me.” [from Ber. 55a]

Rashi on Exodus 38:22

Betzalel’s artistic wisdom came from his being in the “shadow of God”. In an interesting way Moshe admits that Betzalel is on the inside of the joke in a way that Moshe himself is on the outside.

I was thinking about the origin of Betzalel’s name in contrast to the famous story of Hillel. Hillel was very poor in his younger days. He would earn only half a dinar for an entire day’s work, some of which he spent to gain admittance into the study hall. The entrance fee was one quarter of a dinar, leaving him with a daily allowance of one quarter of a dinar to live on. Yet, even in such poverty, Hillel the Elder never considered using the money on anything other than the study of Torah. One Friday, he found no work. Unable to pay the entrance fee, he was denied admittance into the study hall of Shemaya and Avtalyon. Hillel was so determined to continue learning that he climbed on to the roof and listened to the lecture through a skylight. It was the depths of winter, and snow began to fall. Hillel remained on the roof all night, and was buried in snow. The next morning, Shemaya realized that there was a figure blocking the sunlight. The students retrieved him from the roof, and even though it was Shabbat, lit a fire to warm him. Although it is forbidden to light a flame on Shabbat, one is commanded to do so in the case of saving a life. There we read:

The Sages continued and said: That day was Shabbat eve and it was the winter season of Tevet, and snow fell upon him from the sky. When it was dawn, Shemaya said to Avtalyon: Avtalyon, my brother, every day at this hour the study hall is already bright from the sunlight streaming through the skylight, and today it is dark; is it perhaps a cloudy day? They focused their eyes and saw the image of a man in the skylight. They ascended and found him covered with snow three cubits high. They extricated him from the snow, and they washed him and smeared oil on him, and they sat him opposite the bonfire to warm him. They said: This man is worthy for us to desecrate Shabbat for him. Saving a life overrides Shabbat in any case; however, this great man is especially deserving. Clearly, poverty is no excuse for the failure to attempt to study Torah.

Yoma 35b

Hillel is not on the inside crowd, but he desperately wants to have access to Torah. So much so, that he put his health at risk. The next day when they come in there is a pall on the Beyt Midrash. In this moment the older generation of scholars are being literally eclipsed by the next generations leading light. Just as Betzalel was in the shade of God, the Beyt Midrash is in Hillel’s shadow. In this case, the spot light is on how exclusive they were being.

It is always better feeling the warmth of being on the inside of a joke and a group. What is the nature of Jewish learning that makes so many people feel like they just do not get the joke?

Representation, the High Priest, and National Art

Recently Sidney Poitier passed away.  In 1964, he became the first African American actor and first Bahamian to win the Academy Award for Best Actor. He once said, “I was the only Black person on the set. It was unusual for me to be in a circumstance in which every move I made was tantamount to representation of 18 million people. ” It is interesting to reflect, what is the role of representation in our lives?

This question makes be think of the 1929 painting by Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte The Treachery of Images ( La Trahison des Images). You might know it as This Is Not a Pipe.The painting shows an image of a pipe. Below it, Magritte painted, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe“, French for “This is not a pipe”.

The Treachery of Images - Wikipedia

About this Magritte said, “The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture “This is a pipe”, I’d have been lying!” All representations of a thing are inherently abstract. It is just as absurd for a painting of a pipe to represent an actual pipe as for Poitier as an individual to represent 18 million people. And still people got angry at Magritte and loved Poitier because representation matters.

I was thinking about this issue when reading Tetzave this week’s Torah portion. There God instructed Moshe to make sacral vestments for Aaron: a breastpiece (the Hoshen), the Efod, a robe, a gold frontlet inscribed “holy to the Lord,” a fringed tunic, a headdress, a sash, and linen breeches. The Hoshen is particularly ornate with its rows of stones. There we read:

Set in it mounted stones, in four rows of stones. The first row shall be a row of carnelian, chrysolite, and emerald; the second row: a turquoise, a sapphire, and an amethyst; the third row: a jacinth, an agate, and a crystal; and the fourth row: a beryl, a lapis lazuli, and a jasper. They shall be framed with gold in their mountings. The stones shall correspond [in number] to the names of the sons of Israel: twelve, corresponding to their names. They shall be engraved like seals, each with its name, for the twelve Tribes.

Exodus 28: 17-21

This sacred breastplate was worn by the High Priest. There was a stone for each of the 12 Tribes. I could imagine being there in the crowd watching the High Priest. He would look so other-worldly with all of his garb, pomp, and circumstance. And that I would see the Hoshen on his chest. I would see me and my tribe represented in one of those stones. With all of its splendor and their names engraved, this was clearly a central symbol of unity of the Israelite people. In this moment the High Priest might say, “I am the only person on the set. It was unusual for me to be in a circumstance in which every move I made was tantamount to representation millions of people. But even if I do not know them I am connected to them. see check out my Hoshen.” The Hoshen is art that represents the nation with all of its Tribes. It turns out that representation matters.


Keter Melukha: 3rd Times the Charm

The last few years I have been completely absorbed by Yishai Ribo‘s music. Ribo is an Orthodox Israeli singer-songwriter who’s music reaches across the religious divide in Israel and beyond. In a deep way he is able to talk about the human condition with the depth of our tradition. For me it started with Seder HaAvodah in which he retells the story of the High Priest’s service in the Temple on Yom Kippur in a way that is completely touching and accessible. He has a way of taking tradition and making it relevant today. Ribo does not sacrifice depth to get his message to the masses. I guess it is not shocking that I love his music.

Two years ago Ribo started to write Keter Melukha, a stunning study of his life through this year of COVID-19 in light the Jewish calendar. It is scary to reflect how blurry time has been over the last two years. During this time so much has changed and at the same time it feels that we are still where we left off two years ago. There he starts off:

Between Parashat Teruma and Tetsaveh,
A somewhat different birthday,
Everything seems normal here:
Stage, crowd, and love.

Being between Parashat Teruma and Tetsaveh, it is worth watching this video as we get ready for the 3rd version of this experience:

There is so much I have to say about the lyrics to this song. The chorus is still so haunting, “How to maintain distance and draw close in this pain?” His question is prescient in that we are still asking ourselves this question. We are still struggling to make connection while maintaining our distance. We are clearly still in pain.

I am a process of making another contemporary page of Talmud in order to give more people access to the richness of Ribo’s music. I am not done yet, but I just could not resist sharing a draft of it that I started with the help of my friend Rabbi Joe Schwartz on this anniversary of the time between between Parashat Teruma and Tetsaveh. Check it out. I would love your thoughts and edits for this. Thank you.

The Limits of Cancel Culture: Jeremiah and Our Moment

John McWhorter is a professor of linguists at Columbia University. It makes sense for him to be interested in a Chinese language professor in California who was leading a discussion on filler words, such as “like” or “you know” in English. A common pause word in the Chinese language is “na-ge.” During his lecture, the professor repeated several times the term, which sounds like the N-word, but means “that.” Students complained, and the professor was suspended. “Those are cases that make the news because they’re especially colorful,” says McWhorter. “But it happens all the time.” There are real perils of cancel culture. While I do not agree with everything he wrote, I found his book Woke Racism to be a compelling and a really thoughtful book.

It is clear that we have become a culture of extremes, laying waste to people in the middle. Be it the mobs of cancel culture on one side or newly victimized anti-cancel culture advocates on the other, we increasingly use bombastic language. This makes us more tribal and less willing to take time to understand situations that are not our own. Both sides believe they are always right and are the guardians of truth. Both groups espouse politics that become equally zero-sum and exclusionary. The boundaries of our echo chamber are clear. In this current climate we are less likely to hear one another out. This ultimately takes us further away from fixing the serious problems. We have an inability to have substantive and serious debate about fundamentally crucial topics. We have lowered our level of discourse. Our next step is not clear.

To be clear, it is wonderful to live at a time when there are real and clear consequences for bad actions, we desperately need accountability. We need to continue our long march to living in a just and fair society. In the case of Chinese professor, too much is lost in translation. Have we gone too far? How might we fix this?

I was thinking about this issue this week when reading the haftorah, which is taken from the book of Jeremiah. There we read :

Just as I would not cancel My covenant with the day and night and I would not cancel the laws of heaven and earth, so too I will not cast away the descendants of Jacob . . . for I will return their captivity [to their land] and have mercy on them.(Jeremiah 33:25-26)

It concludes with words of reassurance that God’s relationship with the Jewish people is as implacable as God’s commitment to the natural order of time and law’s of nature. In Jeremiah we see that there are consequences for our behavior, namely captivity, but God is not into this cancel culture either. For us to return to a higher level of discourse we must follow God’s example. We cannot allow ourselves to be held captive by extremes. We must be open to listening to each other in good faith without just canceling them. We need to be clear when people hurt us, be open to change, have mercy for people doing their best, and most importantly rebuild trust. A world without accountability and a belief in and practice of teshuva is one that will remain broken. As sure as the passing of day and night and laws of heaven and earth, we need to find a way to return.

Simple But Not Simplistic: Yitro and the Revelation of Kindness

The truth rarely is ever nice and neat, but it can be sudden. It is often messy, but can be straightforward. This is best captured in the synthesis of senses in this week’s Torah portion, Yitro. At Sinai they saw the sound of thunder (Exodus 20:15). At Sinai the sublime beauty of God was revealed with a blending of sensory experiences. Synesthesia communicates something complex in a way that is simple but not simplistic.

If I was a slave, what would it mean to be freed? What would it mean to find myself meeting the Creator? It must have just been overwhelming. This blending is understandable. But is that it?

I could only imagine the Israelites profound sense of gratitude. This and the synesthesia at revelation is echoed by Mark Twain who said, “Kindness is a language that the blind can see and the deaf can hear.” Kindness in its essence is simple, but rarely simplistic. By our nature were are driven toward looking out for ourselves. In many ways were are enslaved by self-interest. Altruism, the practice of concern for happiness of others, is clear as day and so hard to actualize.

Amidst all of the darkness, hatred, bigotry, and anti-Semitism in the world right now we could use a little flash of revelation even if it not so clear.

– Links to other posts on synesthesia

Herd Immunity: Amalek and the Most Vulnerable

The last couple of years have felt like a roller coaster ride. We went from weeks of global fear due to a pandemic to moments of personal salvation and back to national challenges only to elation of the creation of a vaccine and all of this has been accented by precious family time in the safety of our home and longing to be with family and friends outside our bubble. We have gone from the highest of the highs to the lowest of the lows and back again.

This gives me a have a different insight into the life of the Israelites that we see in B’shalach, this week’s Torah portion. Recently having being freed from slavery in Egypt they find themselves about to die stuck between Pharaoh’s approaching chariots and the sea. And then just like that the sea splits, they escape, and they oppressors drown the bottom of the sea. Continuing the roller coaster ride we go from the high of the Songs by the Sea to the low of their complaining and questioning God about the Manna. If all of this was not enough the portion ends with the lowest of the low, their being routed by the Amalekites. There we read:

The place was named Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and because they tried the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord present among us or not?” And Amalek came and made war with Israel in Refidim.

Exodus 17:7-8

On this Rashi comments:

Scripture places this section immediately after this preceding verse (they said, “Is the Lord among us or not?”) to imply, “I am ever among you and ready at hand for every thing you may need, and yet you say, “Is the Lord among us or not?” By your lives, I swear that the hound (Amalek) shall come and bite you, and you will cry for Me and then you will know where I am!” A parable: it may be compared to a man who carried his son upon his shoulder, and went out on a journey. The son saw an article and said, “Father, pick up that thing and give it to me”. He gave it to him, and so a second time and so also a third time. They met a certain man to whom the son said, “Have you seen my father anywhere?” Whereupon his father said to him, “Don’t you know where I am?” — He, therefore, cast him off from himself and a hound came and bit him (Midrash Tanchuma, Yitro 3).

Rashi on Exodus 17:8

On one level this parable seems to align with the little boy who cried wolf. As if God is saying, “You complain, well I will give you something to complain about.” On another level it is interesting in that it evokes the image of a young child as the victim. This is a compelling dimension in the context of what we learn about this attack in Deuteronomy. There we read:

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt— how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear.

Deuteronomy 25:17-18

Amalek was particularly awful because they attacked us from the rear. They targeted the most vulnerable among us, the elderly and the children.

This idea was brought to life for me when I saw this extraordinary footage from a drone of a reindeer cyclone from above:

If you are a young, old, or weak reindeer, you will find yourself at the heart of the herd and it offers you protection. If you are strong you are on the outside protecting the weak. The reindeer protect their rear by creating this cyclone.

To only way to deal with the roller coaster is to circle up. In many ways this is the same thinking this is the rationale behind getting vaccinated. This is the very idea of the strong supporting the weak and creating a cyclone effect of herd immunity.

Mixed Multitudes and the Infinite Mindset

Amidst the narrative of our liberation from Egypt, we learn that the Israelites were not the only one’s to get redeemed from slavery. There in Bo, this week’s Torah portion we read:

Moreover, an Erev Rav – mixed multitude went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds.

Exodus12:38

Different commentaries explain this Erev Rav. Where they converts, freeloaders, refugees smuggling themselves out with the live stocks, or fellow travelers? In any case there was a great mixing between the Israelites and other freed slaves that were redeemed at the same time.

It is clear the in Genesis the emergent nation of Israel was a family, but in Exodus they are already a people and the lines of who is in and who is not is blurry. For most of our history those lines were more black and white. These divisions were clear because of a larger politics, more brazen anti-Semitism, or particularistic practices. With the advent of the enlightenment many of these lines became blurry. What does it mean to be Jewish? Over time the rates of intermarriage just keep rising? Again we find ourselves amidst these mixed multitudes. What do we make of our fellow travelers?

I was struck recently when I saw this picture of two popular culture icons.

Schitt's Creek's Dan Levy and Parks and Recreation's Rashida Jones Interview
Rashida Jones and Dan Levy

Both Rashida Jones and Dan Levy have a Jewish and a non-Jewish parents. How do we make sense of the Jewish people, nation, family?

I was thinking about the reality of our mixed multitudes recently when reading The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek.  Published in 2019, the book starts with comparing two mindsets for playing any game: Finite Game and the Infinite Game. The concept was heavily inspired by James Carse’s book Finite and Infinite Games as result, it initially summarizes Carse’s distinction between two different types of games. Simon Sinek explains that finite games (e.g. chess and football) are played for the purpose of ending play consistent with static rules. There are set rules, and every game has a beginning, middle and end, and a final winner is distinctly recognizable. Infinite games (e.g. business and politics) are played for the purpose of continuing play rather than to win. Sinek claims that leaders who embrace an infinite mindset, aligned with infinite play, will build stronger, more innovative, inspiring, resilient organizations, though these benefits may accrue over larger timescales than benefits associated with a finite mindset.

Sinek argues that business fits all the characteristics of an infinite game, notably that: there may be known as well as unknown players; new players can join at any time; each player has their own strategy; there is no set of fixed rules (though law may operate as semi-fixed rules); and there is no beginning or end. Further drawing on Carse’s work, Sinek extends the distinction between end states in finite games to claim that business, when viewed through an infinite mindset, do not have winners and losers, but rather players who simply drop out when they run out of the will, the desire, and/or the resources to continue play. According to Sinek, it follows that business leaders should stop thinking about who wins or who is the best and start thinking about how to build and sustain strong and healthy organizations. Simon Sinek considers Infinite Mindset as a necessity to be able to succeed in business for long term. The goal of winning is elusory, when we should be working toward resiliency. This Infinite Mindset allows companies to think better and survive infinitely. Simon Sinek lays down five essential practices necessary to have an Infinite Mindset.

This notion of an Infinite Mindset is not just relevant to a companies sustained success. It is also an interesting lens through which to explore these questions about our mixed multitudes. In the past we have framed intermarriage as a Finite Game. We were “winning” with endogamy and “losing” with marrying out. It seems more interesting to explore an Infinite Mindset. What is the long game? How might we keep playing? What role might these fellow travels have in helping us continue to play this game? Shimon Peres said, “It matters less if you parents are Jewish then if you kids will be. The Jewish future will be written by those who care.” Maybe we should be less focused on the mixed multitudes who came out of Egypt with us in the past, than where liberation might lead our future.


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