Archive for the '5.08 Nitzavim / VaYelech' Category



2nd Quadrant

As I prepare for Rosh HaShana I have been giving some thought to how I might better use my time this coming  year. I got to thinking about Stephen Covey ‘s Four Quadrants. I have found this concept of a time management matrix for prioritizing very helpful. The system asks you 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 need to strive to spend more of our time in the Quadrant 2.

So while preparing for the upcoming Jewish and academic years I get to reading the end of Nitzavim, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

15 See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil, 16 in that I command you this day to love the Lord your God, to walk in God’s ways, and to keep God’s commandments and God’s statutes and God’s ordinances; then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God shall bless you in the land when you go in to possess it. 17 But if your heart turn away, and you will not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; 18 I declare to you this day, that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days upon the land, when you pass over the Jordan to go in to possess it. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that you may live, you and your seed. (Deuteronomy 30: 15-19)

It is interesting to realize that our lives are on a clock. We have no idea how long we have, but we do know that our time on earth is finite. It is also interesting to realize that the words “good and evil” are charged with meaning in the Bible. I am not sure that there is absolute good and evil after Eden. I would assume that good actually means that something is serving the expressed will of God. So instead of reading this as a simple choice of two paths, I prefer to see our Torah portion in the context of Covey’s Four Quadrants. While we hope to spend the most of our time doing things that are urgent and good, I have to realize that there are many things that take our time and are not mission aligned. I am not sure that they are false gods, but they are clearly a waste of the precious little time I have and de facto bringing me closer to death.

And more importantly, how much of this upcoming year am I going to commit to doing the things that are not urgent, but are good? Spending our time in the 2nd Quadrant  is clearly the divine way. There is much I hope to accomplished in my life, what am I doing to do this year to prioritize my time to achieve it?  May we all be blessed to have a year in the 2nd Quadrant.

Shanah Tova– Have a wonderfully sweet and mission aligned New Year.

 

MI Torah

I always think about how to make Torah relevant to myself, my family, the Jewish people, and the world. Torah is unchanging, but what it means is always evolving. Torah will not survive in a museum behind glass. This idea is well articulated in Nitzavim / VaYelech this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

12 It is not in heaven, that you should say: ‘Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?’     13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say: ‘Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?’ 14 Rather the word is very near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it. (Deuteronomy 30:12-14)

There is no agency. Torah is supposed to be for all of us.  While it seems the plain reading is that to understand that Torah is not just for learning, but rather for action. That seems to sell learning short and worse miss too many students. Torah itself is learned in many ways. Rashi comments that” in your mouth” implies the oral Torah as much as the written Torah, but I still think that is missing the mark. Torah can be learned in many different ways including “in your mouth” (speaking and tasting), “in your heart” (emotional intelligence), and action itself.

Howard Gardner, the renowned developmental psychologist,  believes that there are multiple intelligences.  This graph does a good job breaking out the different ways people learn.

It is true, Torah is not in heaven. It is also true that Torah is not limited to the Beit Midrash or the School. Torah is out there in the world. There is no one else who can bring it to you. It is very near to ourselves and we must figure out for ourselves and help each other realize in ourselves what kind of student we are and our way of discovering Torah.  I am not saying that Torah is innate. We still have to do something to reveal it. Maybe in future posts I will look at the different intelligences individually. For now I can say that there is no one way to learn Torah.

On the recent occasion of  sending Yishama to kindergarten a teacher at the Carmel Academy, my children’s’ school, sent this video to me . Enjoy.

I sincerely hope that I am able help each of my children find his or her own path in Torah and his or her own variety of success in the world. There are many gates to the Torah. I hope to give my children the keys and never be perceived as a gate-keeper. An empowered child will transform our world in ways we have yet to imagine.  As we move to Rosh HaShana I hope that we all reconnect to our inner intelligence and open more gates in the days, weeks, and years to come.

Standing This Day

At the beginning of this week’s double portion, Nitzavim- VeYelech, we read:

9 You are standing this day all of you before the Lord your God: your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, even all the men of Israel, 10 your little ones, your wives, and your stranger that is in the midst of your camp, from the hewer of your wood unto the drawer of your water… 13 Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath;   14 but with him that stands here with us this day before the Lord our God, and also with him that is not here with us this day.  (Deuteronomy 29:9-14)

If it happened at all, revelation happened thousands of years ago at Sinai. What does it mean that this day there was revelation with the people who were not even there? Rashi cites the Midrash Tanchuma to explain that this is the source for the tradition that all Jews, from all generations, stood at Sinai. We were all there to embrace the special relationship with each other and the holy Other at that moment of Revelation.

We at the Foundation for Jewish Camp are ideologically pluralistic. We celebrate that we all experienced that moment differently but still enjoy the notion that we were all there. This memory itself fosters Jewish unity and empowers individuals to increased Jewish knowledge on their own terms. The diversity of camps we work with speaks to the diversity of needs of the families in our community. While each camp thinks it is completely unique, when they meet a camp person from another camp they realize how much they actually have in common. From the camp director to first time camper, from the maintenance staff to the veteran counselor, every summer we are blessed to reconvene these holy Jewish communities at camp. Even if geographically they are all over North America and ideologically they are all doing their part in building the larger Jewish community. But why limit it to just those days of summer?

It seems fitting on this Shabbat, in which we recall being together at Sinai, we think about the Global Day of Jewish Learning. Last year the Global Day of Jewish Learning was conceived to mark the completion of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s monumental translation on the Talmud. The inaugural event was a huge success reaching every corner of the Jewish world with 600 events in 400 communities in 48 countries. If you are interested in reconnecting to this moment when we were all together at Sinai think about getting your camp community together during the off season to hold or join a Global Day of Jewish Learning event on November 13th. Check out their website and be in touch with us if we can help.

– As seen on Foundation for Jewish Camp Blog

 

More on Woodcutters and Water Carriers

Last week marked our daughter Emunah’s first birthday and my first year anniversary of writing this blog. At the start of last week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim VaYelech we read,

9You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, 10your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodcutter to water carrier (Deuteronomy  29:9-10)

Every Jew was included in the renewal of the covenant, regardless of his or her socio-economic situation or the variety of his or her religious/ritual commitment. But, what can we learn from the Torah’s specifying from the woodcutter to the water carrier?

The Bible seems to be telling a story of a dynamic tension between these two vocations. Last year I explored how Adam and Eve might be understood metaphorically as the woodcutter and the water carrier. This year I wanted to suggest two more readings.

Soon after we celebrate Rosh HaShanah we will celebrate Simchat Torah and reboot our yearly cycle of Torah reading.  And then just after the creation of the world, we will turn our attention to Noah and his generation. While there are many stories in the Bible in which people are looking for water, in the time of Noah that is not their issue. God sent a flood to expunge the world of the poor behavior of the sinners of Noah’s generation. Noah saved humanity from the peril of too much water by following God’s direction to make and ark of gopher wood (Genesis 6:14) In this context we can see that the people acting like animals were the water carriers and Noah in hewing the wood for the ark was the woodcutter. This is to say that in last week’s Torah portion we were inviting everyone from the savior ( Noah)  to the sinner ( the people who caused the flood). We learn that no one has the monopoly on access to Torah.

For today’s readers the story of the flood seems like a Disney movie, but have evolved so much since biblical times. We think we are in control and that we have conquered nature. But it is obvious from the recent flooding  in Pakistan and Katrina here in America that this is far from the case. As much as we try we cannot transcend nature. Even Noah the person who survived the flood by becoming the woodcutter did not know when to leave the ark he built. There we read,
The dove came back to him toward evening, and there in its bill was a plucked-off olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the waters had decreased on the earth.( Genesis 8:11)
There is a sweet irony in that we almost went extinct in acting like animals in becoming the water carriers and it was an animal that became a woodcutter and saved Noah and his family.  In this sense the invitation of the woodcutter to the water carrier  is a reminder of the famous words of Rabbi Simcha Bunam. He said,
Every person should have two pockets. In one, [there should be a note that says] bishvili nivra ha’olam, ‘for my sake was the world created.’ In the second, [there should be a note that says] anokhi afar va’efer, ‘I am dust and ashes.’
It seems that control itself might be illusory. I hope that Emunah has another wonderful year perfecting her walking and learning how to navigate her “two pockets”.

Of Woodcutters & Water Carriers

On the eve of the High Holidays I have to admit that I am excited. I know that during this time more Jews will reconnect to each other, their Judaism, and their inner selves than at any other time of the year. Regardless of where they are the rest of the year, they know that they are welcome back to the synagogue during the High Holidays. While one could bemoan their estrangement from the religious life as well as from the entire Jewish community the rest of the year, I choose to bask in the simple pleasure of their company at this time. I strive to live in the national myth of meeting up with my fellow pilgrims on our way up to Jerusalem to bring our festival sacrifices. The High Holidays are a time when every Jew feels a calling to come back to the Jewish community.

I like the idea of this sort of open invite. This idea of inclusion finds resonance in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim. We read, “You are standing today, all of you…from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water.” (Deut 29:9-10) Every Jew was included in the renewal of the covenant, regardless of his or her socio-economic situation or the variety of his or her religious/ritual commitment. But, what can we learn from the Torah’s specifying the woodcutter and the water carrier?

Without falling into some Augustinian ditch, I wanted to offer one of many answers to the framing of our collective mythology in these terms. When Adam and Eve took from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil they established themselves as the first people to cut from a tree (Genesis 3:6). The consequence of which was that for the rest of time we would have to work the land to get food. As we see in the second passage of the Sh’ma (Deuteronomy 11:13- 21), Gcd limits rain as a means of regulating our behavior.  If Adam and Eve were the woodcutters, by following Gcd’s will the Israelites became the water carriers. The problem created by that first chopping of wood would not simply be solved by working the land. We also needed water to face the challenge of survival.

Even if we do not agree with the reward and punishment theology inherent in the Sh’ma, I find it meaningful that we, all of us across time, are part of a collective. Regardless of how many times we show up, all of us need to own the problem and work toward the solution. As we gear up for the High Holidays, I look forward to basking in the myth of our collective and to also taking responsibility for the past and the future. We cannot just look back and try to wash away an “original sin”. We all sin all the time. What trees has our generation cut down? Will a future generation figure out how they will bring the water? Our environmental issues today are not so original.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Shabbat Shalom.


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