Posts Tagged 'Eikev'

Respecting the OGs: Eikev, Lewis, and Aunt Ellen

In Eikev, this week’s Torah portion we recall the making and re-making of the Tablets of Stone, the incident of the Golden Calf, and Aaron’s death. There we read:

From Beeroth-bene-jaakan the Israelites marched to Moserah. Aaron died there and was buried there; and his son Eleazar became priest in his stead. (Deuteronomy 10:6)

Riffing off of the tragic death of Aaron the Midrash explores the context of this loss. There read:

R. Yudan said: For what reason is the death of Aaron (Deut. 10:6) being so near the breaking of the tablets (Deut. 9:17)? To teach that the death of the righteous is as grievous to the Holy One as the breaking of the tablets. ( Midrash Tanchuma Buber, Achrei Mot 10:1)

There is a rich reading in the text here in as much as the second set of Tablets replaced the first just as Eleazar replaces Aaron in the same breath of his passing. And in both cases the second copy only makes us realize the unique and special quality of the original.  While we can try to replace what is lost, the act of replacement make us miss them even more. Aaron is the original and Eleazar will never completely fill the void left.

I was thinking about this idea this week with the recent passing of two very different people. The first is Civil Rights icon Congressman John Lewis z”l and second is my great aunt Ellen Katz z”l.

John Lewis was the youngest of the “Big Six” leaders who organized the legendary 1963 March on Washington. He fulfilled many critical roles in the civil rights movement and its actions to end legalized racial segregation in the United States and served in Congress for 17 terms.

John Lewis and the March on Washington speech he never gave - Vox

Aunt Ellen was my Oma’s sister-in-law. Born and raised in Germany she left Europe during WWII on a HIAS Kindertransport by herself at the age of 12. Her father had come to America at the start of the war in an effort to get the money and paperwork needed to bring over the family. Tragically her 16 year old sister, mother, and grandmother all died in Auschwitz.  Ellen lived her teen years in modest living situation with her father. Eventually she was set up on a date with Ernie, my beloved great Uncle. Three weeks later they were engaged. Together they made a great life for themselves, their two sons, 5 grandchildren, and 5 great grandchildren. For Ellen family was everything.

While their lives very different, John Lewis and Ellen Katz both lived full, authentic, and noble lives. They were OGs and as we learn in the Midrash they can never really be replaced. But in giving there memories their dur respect we remind ourselves what is good, what is worth fighting for, and what is holy.

Positive Narrative: The Shift in Tablets and Positive Psychology

At the start of the summer I had the pleasure of going to the International Positive Education Network (IPEN) conference in Fort Worth Texas. IPEN aims to bring together teachers, students, parents, higher education, charities, companies and governments to promote Positive Education. The objective of Positive Education is not only to improve students’ well-being but also their academic performance. Positive Education is the programmatic/educational cousin of Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology is a branch of psychology that complements the traditional focus on pathology with the study of human strengths and virtues and the factors that contribute to a full and meaningful life. There at the conference I got to hear Dr.Martin Seligman , the father of Positive Psychology, explain the history of how the shift from focusing on pathology to building on strengths and how that opened up an whole scientific study of human flourishing.

At the conference I learned about a ton of compelling research proving the success of this work and many interesting strategies that people are employing to support their students’ flourishing. Hearing Seligman, I was moved thinking about how much of the shift from a pathology to strength based approach is actually determined by your fundamental understanding of the human condition. Our primary myth of who we are as people might itself set limits to our imagination and capacity to flourish and be successful. Since that time I have been giving a lot of thought to the stories we decide to tell that might help us flourish.

I was thinking about this shift this week when reading Eikev, this week’s Torah portion. There Moshe reviews all of the bad things that the Israelites did in the wilderness. Moshe rebukes them for their failings recalling their worship of the Golden Calf, the rebellion of Korach, the sin of the spies, and their angering of God. He admonishes them for being rebellious against God.  But than Moshe shifts the conversation and speaks of God’s forgiveness of their sins, and the Second Tablets following their repentance. There we read:

1 At that time the Lord said unto me: ‘Hew for yourself two tables of stone like unto the first, and come up unto Me into the mount; and make for yourself an ark of wood. 2 And I will write on the tables the words that were on the first tables which you did break, and you shall put them in the ark.’ 3 So I made an ark of acacia-wood, and hewed two tables of stone like unto the first, and went up into the mount, having the two tables in my hand. 4 And God wrote on the tables according to the first writing, the ten words, which the Lord spoke to you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly; and the Lord gave them unto me. (Deuteronomy 10:1–4)

There is a lot to say about the how we could shift from the first Tablets to the second, but now I am intrigued about the implications of this shift in narrative. Moshe starts by telling the story of the Israelites as rebellious sinners who need God’s forgiveness. Here Moshe transitions to rewriting the narrative with these second set of Tablets. As a people we have a lot of pathologies that we are trying to correct by keeping these set of rules. It is clear that system was not that successful. In writing the second set of Tablets Moshe is literally and figuratively rewriting his personal and our national narrative. Moshe has tremendous strength to partner with God to write the rules that will help us flourish. This story of Moshe writing divine rules in partnership with God is a profound story for all of us about the human condition. We all have strength upon which we can build in order to flourish.

As we learn from Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi:

Every day a heavenly voice goes forth from Mount Horev and makes proclamation . . . And it says, “And the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tablets” (Exodus 32:16). Read not harut (graven) but herut (freedom). For there is no free man but one that occupies himself with the study of the Torah. (Avot 6:2)

When we are operating from a place of pathology our future is engraved and fixed in stone. Everything changes when we can partner in writing the rules. Not only can we own the process, but we can change our understanding of what it means to be a person. When Moshe engraves the second set of Tablets he is modeling what takes to operate from a place of strength. We can all build on our strengths and in so doing become truly free. The learning of Torah is not the act of just following rules and fixing what is wrong with us. The very act of learning Torah is curating a positive narrative of the human condition .

– There is do doubt I will be writing a lot more on Positive Psychology in the weeks to come. I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Be in touch.

Faith Minus Vulnerability

In Eikev, this week’s Torah portion we read:

The graven images of their gods shall you burn with fire; you shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them, nor take it unto yourself, lest you be snared therein; for it is an abomination to the Lord your God.And you shalt not bring an abomination into your house, and be accursed like unto it; you shalt utterly detest it, and you shall utterly abhor it; for it is a devoted thing. (Deuteronomy 7:25-26)

What do we make of the use of the word”abomination” in the context of idolatry?  In the Talmud Rabbi Yohanan in the name of Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai noted the word “abomination” in common in both our portion and in Proverbs which says:

Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; my hand upon it! he shall not be unpunished(Proverbs 16:5)

They deduced from the common use of the same word “abomination” that people who are haughty of spirit are as though they worshiped idols (Sotah 4b).

I was thinking about this in the context of the work of Brené Brown. In her brilliant discussion of vulnerability she writes:

Faith minus vulnerability and mystery equals extremism. If you’ve got all the answers, then don’t call what you do ‘faith.’
Rabbi Yohanan and Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai are on to something – there is a certain abomination of being too haughty and close minded to be vulnerable. The secret of whole-hearted living is to break the idols in our lives and be open to the mystery of the unknown, the Unknowable, and even yet to be known self. These are only revealed through the hard work and practice of humility.

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