Archive for the '4.04 Shelach' Category

Squeeky Wheel : Shelach and Our Priorities

The expression goes that the squeaky wheel always gets the grease. Why don’t we spend our energy differently? Why not invest our energy in good things that are important, as compared to always doing triage? Are we spending our resources, time, and emotional energy well?

I was thinking about these questions when reading Shelach, this week’s Torah portion. There we learn about spies who gave reports on the land. We spend so much energy dealing with the 10 spies who gave a bad report we never spend enough time on Kalev and Joshua who gave a good report.  Ignoring the good spies just seems to be human nature.

This reminds me of Stephen Covey ‘s Four Quadrants. His system asks us to use of four quadrants to determine the tasks you “need” to do and deciding what should be made a priority. For those who are not familiar with it, here’s a picture and a brief overview.

  • In Quadrant 1 (top left) we have important, urgent items – items that need to be dealt with immediately.
  • In Quadrant 2 (top right) we have important, but not urgent items – items that are important but do not require your immediate attention, and need to be planned for.  This quadrant is highlighted because this is the quadrant that we should focus on for long-term achievement of goals
  • In Quadrant 3 (bottom left) we have urgent, but unimportant items –  items which should be minimized or eliminated. These activities suck a lot of out time.
  • In Quadrant 4 (bottom right) we have unimportant and also not urgent items – items that don’t have to be done anytime soon, perhaps add little to no value and also should be minimized or eliminated.

In Covey’s words we should create habits that put “first things first to achieve effectiveness. Too often decisions are guided by the “clock” of scheduling and not by the “compass” of purpose and values. In Covey’s words, if people want “to live, to love, to learn, and to leave a legacy” they need to move beyond “urgency” . We cannot just be greasing Quadrant 1 or listening to the bad spies. We need to strive to spend more of our time in the Quadrant 2 and invest in the good spies.

 

Higher Purpose

At the end of Shelach, this week’s Torah portion, we read about Challah. There we read:

Of the first of your dough you shall set apart a cake for a gift; as that which is set apart of the threshing-floor, so shall you set it apart. Of the first of your dough you shall give to the Lord a portion for a gift throughout your generations. Numbers 15:20-21

Today we call Challah the braided loaf of bread, but it is more precise to just call it bread. Challah is actually the part that we give awChallahay. It is a beautiful idea that our Challah bread is identified by what we take away from it and raise for a higher purpose. What happens when we take  our time, our resources, our money, and our talent and raise it up for a higher purpose? When we commit ourselves to the causes we hold dear we ourselves are transformed.  In the act of giving away something what is left is enriched. Acts of altruism help us raise up the rest of our lives. Like Challah we can be called by the name of a higher purpose.

– Check out other thoughts on Challah.

 

Identity Marker

At the end of Shelach, this week’s Torah Portion, we read that God tells Moses to instruct the Israelites to make for themselves fringes (in Hebrew, צִיצִת, tzitzit) on each of the corners of their garments. There we read:

 ‘Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them throughout their generations fringes in the corners of their garments, and that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread of Tekhelet. And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that you may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that you go not about after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you use to go astray;that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God. (Numbers 15:38-41 )

From this we could learn that even today we are supposed to wear these garments,  look at the fringes, recall the commandments, and observe them.

I have had tzitzit on my mind since the UJA-Federation of New York recently presented the findings from the Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011. This was a comprehensive study of the world’s largest and most diverse Jewish community outside Israel. I have been thinking of two main issues. One is the diversity of identity markers of the  contemporary Jewish community and the second is the rise of Orthodox population. It is obvious how thinking about the tremendous growth of the Orthodox community would lead me to think about tzitzit ( that is some great branding). To relate to the second issue I will have to deal with another question from this week’s Torah portion. What is this Tekhelet? 

On this in  the Talmud  quotes Rabbi Meir as saying:

Why particularly Tekhelet [for the mitzvah of tzitzit] from among all other colored materials? Because Tekhelet is similar to the sea, and the sea is similar to the sky, and the sky is similar to the Holy Throne. As it says, “And they saw the God of Israel: under His feet there was the likeness of a pavement of sapphire, like the very sky for purity (Exodus 24:10),” and as it is written, “in appearance like sapphire stone was the semblance of a throne” (Ezekiel 1:26).(Sotah 17b)

So Tekhelet seems to be some shade of aqua sky blue. More important then it being a color  it is color code for a set of references that go from the mundane string adornment of cloth all the way to God on high. Over the years we lost the snail from which we harvested the dye to get this specific color. Recently there are those who believe that they rediscovered this snail, but for many more this pigment is still understood to be lost. So we are left with just the white strings to remind us of God and God’s commandments. But still for most Jews, this entire custom  is lost.  And beyond this custom, for many this costume is alienating. Yes, tzitzit  are identified as the garb of Orthodox Jews, but have the rest of us lost the thread of the idea? ( Sorry I just could not resist the pun.)

So we know that the Jewish population is growing. And while within that number the Orthodox population is on the rise, there are still many of us who are and will never be Orthodox Jews.  So while tzitzit will not work for most of ushow do we identify ourselves?  What are the visual cues in our lives that lead us to go from what we wear to a consciousness of big ideas to acting in service of  our highest ideals? First we need to identify these big ideas. When we know that we can work our way down from that throne to other ways those ideas are represented in the world to what we wear on a daily basis.

The lesson of tzitzit is that we need to tether our lived lives to the big ideas or they will get away from us. It might have been easier to talk about an idea called Jewish identity then wrestle with the fact that our larger Jewish family does not share any common practices. If we want to educate the next generation of Jews we need to get over this fear and go back to this lesson of tzitzit. Good education is not just theory and idea or just practice and dress codes. Like tzitzit it needs to connect these factors. We need to train the next generation in specific practices that are linked to big ideas. We need to stop  just talking about the nebulous concept of Jewish identity that is not manifest in behavior. And we cannot be content with practices for their own sake that are not in linked to big ideas. There is a tremendous opportunity for us to move past the old theoretical  identity markers toward new-old  real-life adornment that mark our highest ideals. What are going to be the next generation’s tzitzit?

Tasty Education

When I tell people  I work in camping, their first response is that they want to know what I do the rest of the year. After that I usually get the love. We love camp it transformed our lives. When I tell them that I work in Jewish Education in camping I get a lot of blank looks. What kind of work is that? Camps are just places to socialize Jews. What kind of education might we try to do at camp? There are no class rooms in camp. And if I try to put them into class in the summer  I will destroyed camp. I see it in their eyes. I have been transformed to the Grinch who stole fun from camp.

In these moments I reflect on the wise words of the great educator Geoffrey Canada. In a segment he wrote for This I Believe, he wrote about his belief in camp.  There Canada wrote;

Back in 1975, when I was coming out of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, I worked in a summer camp in Ossipee, N.H., for kids with the absolute toughest problems: emotionally disturbed kids, autistic kids, oppositional ADHD kids, kids that everyone — even their parents — had given up on. One of the things that I and the staff would do is cook with the kids. These children didn’t know baking powder from table salt, but once they had eaten a warm biscuit out of the oven, smeared with melted butter and a drizzle of maple syrup, they were very motivated to learn how to make some more.Suddenly, kids who couldn’t sit still or focus were carefully eyeballing ingredients as we measured them out, learning the simple math and spelling lessons we could slip in along the way. By the end of the summer, I remember parents breaking down and crying when they saw the progress their children had made.

The biscuits, by the way, were delicious, and I can still remember the taste of them today — and more importantly, I still remember the lesson they taught me: that if we, the adults, can find the right motivation for a child, there’s hope for that child’s education.

If  a child does not succeed, it means the adults around him or her have failed. It is not that camp is successful because there are no classrooms, it is successful because it has a very complex classroom that strives to deal with all kinds of learners.  Canada goes on to write;

I believe that we adults have to help them, and that starts with looking hard at each child, finding out what excites them and exploiting that excitement shamelessly.

For Canada it came with a plate of steaming, hot biscuits that tasted so good they were ready to learn anything.

Last year I took a group of Assistant Camp Directors to Camp Alonim for a training. We were blessed to spend time with another great educator Dr. Bruce Powell. He shared with us a similar story about how the son of completely acculturated family came to be a leader in the Jewish day school movement. Powell’s mother, a secular Jewess, once went to hear a lecture by Shlomo Bardin the founder of Camp Alonim and BCI. When she asked him what she should do to engage more in Jewish life, Bardin did not tell her to go to a Jewish Studies class or a Synagogue. He asked her what her favorite Jewish memory was. Powell’s mother replied that she loved the smell of Challah baking from her childhood. At that moment Bardin asked her to commit to making Challah for ever Shabbat. As a boy Dr. Powell came home every Friday to the smell of Challah. From there he went to Alonim, and has had an amazing career in Jewish Education staring many day schools.

At the end of Shelach, this week’s Torah portion, we read about Challah. There we read:

20 Of the first of your dough you shall set apart a cake for a gift; as that which is set apart of the threshing-floor, so shall you set it apart.21 Of the first of your dough you shall give to the Lord a portion for a gift throughout your generations. Numbers 15:20-21

Today we call Challah the braided loaf of bread, but it is actually the part that we give away. So too, camp is defined of not being school. When in reality it is an amazing place that we could teach anything we want, as long as we make it tasty. I believe in camp, because I believe the only education is fueled by the students passion. The job of the educator is to connecting a child to their passion. This is truly a gift throughout our generations.

Holy Ties

Two Shabbatot ago I had the pleasure of being at the the Launch Pad Seminar for the Foundation for Jewish Camp. It is a seminar for incoming camp supervisors. There I met a young man who is going to be “head of the lake” this summer. We sat down to talk about his job and how he hoped to bring more Jewish content to the lake. Amongst the things that his staff will be teaching this summer are water safety, different levels of sailing, and of course how to make knots. Not realizing that this was part of his work, I asked to explain the significance of teaching campers how to make knots. They need to know how to keep the boats together and how safely to tie them up to the dock.

My mind flashed ahead to end of  Shlach, this past week’s Torah portion. There we read,

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:  ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them throughout their generations fringes in the corners of their garments, and that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread of blue.  And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that you may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that you go not about after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you use to go astray;  that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy to your God.  I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD your God.’ ( Numbers 15: 37- 41)

These fringes worn on the Tallit are a unique sign of what it means to be a Jew. The unique symbol of the Jews are not the the head covering or Shabbat candles. Surely these are shared with other cultures and products of later rabbinic thought. We learn in the Sifre we learn the significance of the Tzitzit.

Rabbi Meir said: Whoever observes the mitzvah of tzitzit, is considered as if he greeted the Divine Presence, for tehelet resembles the sea, and the sea resembles the sky, and the sky resembles God’s holy throne. (Sifre, Shelach, 15:39)

If head of the lake is the teacher of knots I hope that he takes the time to explain to the campers the significance of the Jewish knots in our lives. Just like the knots in boating, Tzitzit help us make connections that keep us safe, speak of a lasting bond, and push us to look for the awe in the world.

I hope that this supervisor will make  Judaism relevant at the lake.  I also hope that he is able to bring bring the lake to their lives in camp. And just maybe they will be able to make the “connection” to Jewish life after their years at camp are over and there is no lake.


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 3,303 other followers

Archive By Topic


%d bloggers like this: