Archive for the '2.05 Yitro' Category

Privilege Bingo

In Yitro,this week’s Torah portion, we read of Moshe’s reunion with his family and the giving of the Torah. In between these two events, we are privy to the advice which Yitro gives to his son-in-law, Moshe. Moshe was sitting from morning until night listening to the people who had come to seek God (Exodus 18:13-15). Yitro said , “The thing that you do is not good. You will surely become worn out- you as well as this people who is with you, for this matter is too hard for you, you will not be able to do it alone” (Exodus 18:17-18). Moshe outlived his entire generation, it was not as if he was going to weaken his strength to sit, govern, or adjudicate law. Maybe Yitro was concerned that people would grow tired or worse bored out of his mind. It is also possible that Yitro was worried that Moshe would grow corrupt without a system of checks and balances in place. If Moshe ruled alone he would become worn out by his own ego.

I often ponder what Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz said to Dr. Robert Pollack. “If you know someone who says the Throne of God is empty, and lives with that, then you should cling to that person as a good, strong friend. But be careful: almost everyone who says that, has already placed something or someone else on that Throne, usually themselves.” Even if the idea of God is very distant, we can realize the deepest Torah in knowing that none of us are God. Being a religious person in a secular environment makes it easy to slip from seeing oneself as a beneficiary of God’s message to judging everyone who does not live according to your lifestyle.

The greatness of a person is his or her ability to become aware of his or her own privileges and limitations. While Moshe was great in his comprehension of the law, he earned his place in history in his ability to give up that throne. It was only when Moshe got out of that throne that the people were ready to see God sitting in it.

This past year has been a parade of unfortunate events in the world. In light of everything that has happened and is happening I have grown more aware of the myriad of privileges that I enjoy.  I am a cisgendered heterosexual able-bodied tall white man living in the New York area. I am a naturalized citizen and native English speaker ( but some might question that one). I am fortunate to have been blessed with an excellent education and a wonderful family. And on top of all of this and more I am an Orthodox Rabbi. Even before we sit down to play I  have already won the game of Privilege Bingo.

Image result for Privilege Bingo

It is hard for me to not hear Yitro saying, “The thing that you do is not good”. How is my sitting on the throne getting in the way of other people getting to revelation , let alone redemption?

 

 

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Poor Zeidi: Trump and Yitro

Like many other I watched with amazement as Ami Magazine’s chief political correspondent Jake Turx asked what seemed to be a very respectful and respectable question.

The Haredi  reporter began by telling the president that no one in the Jewish community where he lives has accused him or his staff of anti-Semitism. Most obviously reminding everyone that Trump has Jewish grandchildren. Turx even threw in that Trump is their zeidi. At which point Turx asked about the rise in anti-Semitism since the Trump victory last November which has included 48 recent bomb threats against Jewish centers. He said:

What we are concerned about and what we haven’t heard you address, is an uptake in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it.

A belligerent Trump had enough, was anything but respectful and respectable, and ordered Turx to sit down. The President went on to misunderstand the question as an attack on his fidelity to the Jewish community as compared an opportunity to set it clear that his administration is there to take action and make the country safe for its citizens ( including his daughter and grandchildren). Now, Trump bumbled on to say:

So here’s the story folks. No. one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. No. two, racism. The least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican.

When will Trump stop running for office and actually just focus on filling the office? Turx knows that Trump is “least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life”. The Jewish community is looking for a solution(other than any final one) to keep our kids safe.

It is interesting to contrast Trump to Yitro from this week’s Torah portion. At the start of our reading Yitro, Moshe’s non-Israelite father-in-law, coming to visit. There we read:

Now Yitro, the priest of Midian, Moshe’s father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moshe, and for Israel God’s people, how that the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. And Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, took Zipporah, Moshe’s wife, after he had sent her away, and her two sons; of whom the name of the one was Gershom; for he said: ‘I have been a stranger in a strange land’; and the name of the other was Eliezer: ‘for the God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.’ And Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moshe to the wilderness where he was encamped, at the mount of God. (Exodus 18:1- 5 )

It makes sense that in response to hearing about all of the trials, travails, miracles, and wonders that happened to his son-in-law that Yitro came to see Moshe. It even makes sense that he brought Moshe’s family for a reunion. What would not make sense is that Yitro would be so narcissistic to change the conversation to be about himself. I do not actually think that Trump is anti-Semitic, but it is clear that this zeidi is not up the job and should probably retire to Florida.

On Organizational Coaching: Yitro Helps Us Start with Why

In Yitro, this week’s Torah portion, the nation of Israel received the Torah. The Sinai experience, arguably the main event in our history, is introduced by and names for Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, coming to visit. Yitro is the consummate professional coach for Moshe and organizational coach for Moshe’s fledgling nation. Long before the modern Start-Up Nation, B’nai Yisrael was brand new entrepreneurial venture. Well, not exactly, it was actually a rebirth of an old brand that desperately needed to go through a re-branding process in order to make a big splash on the work marketplace of ideas. While the Jewish stock never took over the market, it has been a consistent blue chip product. It seems to be Yitro’s critique that brings about the giving of the Torah- the business manifesto for this Good To Great organization. There we read:

And Moshe’s father-in-law said to him: ‘The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear away, both you, and this people that is with you; for the thing is too heavy for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. Hearken now to my voice, I will give you counsel, and God be with you: you will be for the people before God, and you will bring the causes to God.( Exodus 18: 17-19)

Seeing Moshe working himself to the bone, Yitro gives him a plan to organize the adjudicating of the law. In order for them to keep the law they needed a system for teaching the people the law. They desperately needed a “re-org”. There is a natural progression from his suggestion to Mosche to the people getting the Torah at Sinai.  Yitro is playing the role of a great organizational coach. He helps them operationalize their success, but I do not think that is the limit of his consultancy.

If you have not seen, I would to encourage you to see Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk. He presents a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership all starting with a golden circle and the question “Why”.

I think this is exactly what Yitro did right at the start of the portion. There we read:

Now Yitro, the priest of Midian, Moshe’s father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moshe, and for Israel God’s people, how that the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. And Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, took Zipporah, Moshe’s wife, after he had sent her away, and her two sons; of whom the name of the one was Gershom; for he said: ‘I have been a stranger in a strange land’; and the name of the other was Eliezer: ‘for the God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.’ And Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moshe to the wilderness where he was encamped, at the mount of God. (Exodus 18:1- 5 )

It makes sense that in response to hearing about all of the trials, travails, miracles, and wonders that happened to his son-in-law that Yitro came to see Moshe. It even makes sense that he brought Moshe’s family for a reunion. It does not make sense that in the midst of this reunion the Torah went out of the way to explain the origin and meaning of Gershom and Eliezer’s names. What is the meaning of this?

In thinking about this I was reminded of an old joke. Mr. Altmann and his secretary were sitting in a coffeehouse in Berlin in 1935. “Herr Altmann,” said his secretary, “I notice you’re reading Der Stürmer! I can’t understand why. A Nazi libel sheet! Are you some kind of masochist, or, God forbid, a self-hating Jew?” Mr. Altman replied,”On the contrary, Frau Epstein. When I used to read the Jewish papers, all I learned about were pogroms, riots in Palestine, and assimilation in America. But now that I read Der Stürmer, I see so much more. It says that the Jews control all the banks, that we dominate in the arts, and that we’re on the verge of taking over the entire world. You know – it makes me feel a whole lot better!”

No matter how good or bad things are going we always have a choice as to which story do want to tell. Yitro is the consummate organizational coach. When he shows up he did not just bring his family, but he put before Moshe a choice. Which story did Moshe want to tell? Did Moshe want to tell the Gershom story that they were marginalized or the Eliezer story that they were in a relationship with a God that helped them? In choosing the story Moshe had to identify their ” Why”. Everything flows from this choice. How would they get to Sinai without a “Why”? They would only meet God – HaShem- the name in Hebrew when they picked a path. This might be the essence of the entire book of Exodus, Shmot- names in Hebrew. Which name do they choose for their “Why”?

More than ever we need to revisit Yitro’s guidance and advice. What story do we want to tell? Is being Jewish an articulation of being an “Anti- Anti-Antisemite” are or are we on a divine mission to help the world? Are we Gershom Jews or Eliezer Jews? Or do we need to make a new name for ourselves? All I know is that a good organizational coach should help us reflect on the fact that we need to start with our “Why”. Operationalizing our plans and efforts will be easy once we can name our 21st century “Why” .

Priority List: What Yitro Has To Teach Us This Year

Despite the fact that we are almost done with January, I feel that the year has just started. And yet some how my To-Do list is already too long with hardly enough checked off. How will I ever get through it all this year? But I do not feel alone. It seems that we all have too many things to do. Making lists help us structure and prioritize our time, but do the lists represent us? Do these to-do- lists portray our personal, professional, or organizational values? While we want to be accomplished, do we want to be identified just as the people who do the things on our lists? Is there a soul to our lists?

Wanting to check “write blog post” off the list I turned to Yitro, this week’s Torah portion. There we read about the receiving of the Torah and the Ten Commandments. Interestingly enough, there was a period in Jewish history when they wanted to read the Ten Commandments in the synagogue liturgically. This practice was rejected for fear that people would think that the entire teaching of the Torah was just this To-Do (or Not-To-Do) List. Surely these ten commandments are important, but what is their relationship to the other 603 commandments? Are these a list of priorities or values? If they are a list of values, how does the rest of the Torah spell out these values? And if they are priorities, does this really manifest the values of the rest of the Torah? Or more importantly how does a list speak to the soul?

This got me thinking about Atul Gawande‘s 2009 The Checklist Manifesto . Gawande points out that, while airplane pilots use checklists to ensure optimal outcomes, surgeons do not. While the surgeon might think that their education is beyond needing a remedial checklist, that is not the biggest difference. The biggest difference is if the surgeon fails the patient dies while if the airplane pilot fails he goes down with the ship. It is easy to distance yourself when you do not have as much invested in the outcomes. The book’s main point is simple: no matter how expert you may be, well-designed check lists can improve outcomes.

It is impossible for me to read Yitro without think about our beloved FJC’s Yitro Program for assistant and associate directors (ADs) of Jewish camps across North America. With the continued support of the AVI CHAI Foundation this program is running its third cohort. Yes, I love each cohort equally. In this program we are training these ADs to enhance the Jewish experience at their home camp. In short they need to explore the soul of their camps. As everyone knows these ADs have a crushing amount of work to do. Their To-Do-Lists would give most people apoplexy.  Together in this program we are doing the hard work of defining and elevating the soul of these lists.

Taking their example to heart I think it makes sense for all of us to review our lists for the coming year to ensure that our values and priorities are aligned. We all have a lot of work to do to live accomplished value driven lives.

Work Life Balance: Lessons from Yitro

In Yitro, this week’s Torah portion, the nation of Israel received the Torah. The Sinai experience, arguably the main event in our history, is introduced by and names for Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, coming to visit. Most are quick to point out that Yitro is the consummate consultant. It his critique that seems to bring about the giving of the Torah. There we read:

And Moshe’s father-in-law said to him: ‘The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear away, both you, and this people that is with you; for the thing is too heavy for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. Hearken now to my voice, I will give you counsel, and God be with you: you will be for the people before God, and you will bring the causes to God.( Exodus 18: 17-19)

Seeing Moshe working himself to the bone, Yitro gives him a plan to organize the adjudicating of the law. In order for them to keep the law they needed a system for teaching the people the law. This is a natural progression to the people getting the Torah at Sinai.  Yitro is playing the role of a great consultant helping them operationalize their success, but I do not think that is the limit of his consultancy.

We should not forget what Yitro did right at the start of this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

Now Yitro, the priest of Midian, Moshe’s father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moshe, and for Israel God’s people, how that the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. And Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, took Zipporah, Moshe’s wife, after he had sent her away, and her two sons; of whom the name of the one was Gershom; for he said: ‘I have been a stranger in a strange land’; and the name of the other was Eliezer: ‘for the God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.’ And Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moshe to the wilderness where he was encamped, at the mount of God. (Exodus 18:1- 5 )

It makes sense that in response to hearing about all of the trials, travails, miracles, and wonders that happened to his son-in-law that Yitro came to see Moshe. What is the value of bringing Moshe’s wife and children into the picture? Why is this the moment for  Moshe’s family reunion?

As a communal professional who works in the field of Jewish identity building it is safe to say that my personal identity is deeply invested in my work. While this is deeply enriching, it is also problematic. If I allow too much of my self-worth to be defined by my work as compared to my private life I might lose a sense of priorities. Yitro is the consummate consultant. When he shows up he did not just bring Moshe his family, but he put before Moshe a choice. Do you get your love at work or at home? I can relate to Moshe. We need to have systems in place to ensure that we are efficient and effective at work. We also need to model work-life balance or the whole project will fail.

 

– Interesting article on work-life balance

– Also see to Consummate Consultant : The Essence of Exodus and Being a Good Consultant

Consummate Consultant

In Yitro, this week’s Torah portion, the nation of Israel received the Torah. The Sinai experience, arguably the main event in our history, is introduced by and names for Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, coming to visit. Most are quick to point out that Yitro is the consummate consultant. It his critique that seems to bring about the giving of the Torah. There we read:

And Moshe’s father-in-law said to him: ‘The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear away, both you, and this people that is with you; for the thing is too heavy for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. Hearken now to my voice, I will give you counsel, and God be with you: you will be for the people before God, and you will bring the causes to God.( Exodus 18: 17-19)

Seeing Moshe working himself to the bone, Yitro gives him a plan to organize the adjudicating of the law. In order for them to keep the law they needed a system for teaching the people the law. This is a natural progression to the people getting the Torah at Sinai.  Yitro is playing the role of a great consultant helping them operationalize their success, but I do not think that is the limit of his consultancy.

If you have not seen, I would to encourage you to see Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk. He presents a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership all starting with a golden circle and the question “Why”.

I think this is exactly what Yitro did right at the start of the portion. There we read:

Now Yitro, the priest of Midian, Moshe’s father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moshe, and for Israel God’s people, how that the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. And Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, took Zipporah, Moshe’s wife, after he had sent her away, and her two sons; of whom the name of the one was Gershom; for he said: ‘I have been a stranger in a strange land’; and the name of the other was Eliezer: ‘for the God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.’ And Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moshe to the wilderness where he was encamped, at the mount of God. (Exodus 18:1- 5 )

It makes sense that in response to hearing about all of the trials, travails, miracles, and wonders that happened to his son-in-law that Yitro came to see Moshe. It even makes sense that he brought Moshe’s family for a reunion. It does not make sense that in the midst of this reunion the Torah went out of the way to explain the origin and meaning of Gershom and Eliezer’s names. What is the meaning of this?

In thinking about this I was reminded of an old joke. Mr. Altmann and his secretary were sitting in a coffeehouse in Berlin in 1935. “Herr Altmann,” said his secretary, “I notice you’re reading Der Stürmer! I can’t understand why. A Nazi libel sheet! Are you some kind of masochist, or, God forbid, a self-hating Jew?” Mr. Altman replied,”On the contrary, Frau Epstein. When I used to read the Jewish papers, all I learned about were pogroms, riots in Palestine, and assimilation in America. But now that I read Der Stürmer, I see so much more. It says that the Jews control all the banks, that we dominate in the arts, and that we’re on the verge of taking over the entire world. You know – it makes me feel a whole lot better!”

No matter how good or bad things are going we always have a choice as to which story do want to tell. Yitro is the consummate consultant. When he shows up he did not just bring his family, but he put before Moshe a choice. Which story did Moshe want to tell? Did Moshe want to tell the Gershom story that they were marginalized or the Eliezer story that they were in a relationship with a God that helped them? In choosing the story Moshe had to identify their ” Why”. Everything flows from this choice. How would they get to Sinai without a “Why”? They would only meet God – HaShem- the name in Hebrew when they picked a path. This might be the essence of the entire book of Exodus, Shmot- names in Hebrew. Which name do they choose for their “Why”?

More than ever we need to revisit Yitro’s guidance and advice. What story do we want to tell? Is being Jewish an articulation of being an “Anti- Anti-Antisemite” are or are we on a divine mission to help the world? Are we Gershom Jews or Eliezer Jews? Or do we need to make a new name for ourselves? All I know is that a good consultant would help us reflect on the fact that we need to start with our “Why”. Operationalizing our plans and efforts will be easy once we can name our 21st century “Why” .

In Your Face Empathy

In BeShalach, last week’s Torah portion, we learned of the splitting of the sea. There we read, “And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and God caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all the night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.” (Exodus 14: 21) At the start of Yitro, this week’s Torah portion we learn that Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law comes to meet Moses and the Israelites. There we read, ” Now Yitro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel His people, how that the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt.” ( Exodus 18:1) Why did Yitro come? He heard of the great miracles of the Exodus, especially the splitting of the sea. But, how did he hear? When discussing the miracle of the splitting of the sea, the Sages rationalized that this exception to the rule of science, must have happened every where on the world if it happened at all. Rashi (on Exodus 14:21) brings down the idea  (from the Mehilta and Shemot Rabba 21:6) that “all the waters of the world also split at that time” .

So the water in Yitro’s cup divided, but why did he run to get Zipporah and the grand kids in the car to see Moses?  The miracle of the splitting of the sea was not just that the Isrealites escaped their slave masters, but that it created a narrative with which everyone could relate. The story was not in a far off sea, but right there on our table. All too often we are not sympathetic to a cause until we connect with it on a person level. It is easy to turn a blind eye to someone who is suffering, until you look that person in the eyes.  In my mind this points a deep lesson in the power on empathy.

I was thinking about this lesson  when I saw a recently posted TED talk. In this video photographer iO Tillett Wright pushes us to see past the having check boxes like “female,” “male,” “gay” or straight”. She is the creator of Self Evident Truths—an ongoing project to document the wide variety of experiences in LGBTQ America. So far, she has photographed about 2,000 people for the project. Her goal: 10,000 portraits and a nationwide rethinking of discriminatory laws. Please watch:

In the words of Jewish Philosopher  Emmanuel Levinas, “the Other faces me and puts me in question and obliges me . . . the face presents itself, and demands justice. (Totality and Infinity 207, 294) In the spirit of Yitro, it is hard looking at the pictures of iO Tillett Wright and not heeding  the call and working for equality and justice for all people regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. When we see the humanity in another person, we cannot help but have empathy for that person. We feel that we are connected. And as Yitro teaches us, that is just what family does. Regardless if it is for a celebration or morning, we show up.


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