Posts Tagged 'TED'



Shut Up: An Accomplished TED New Year

At this time of year I imagine that I am in good company with many of you who are also struggling with your  New Year’s resolutions. I like many of you fall into the trap of sharing my aspirations for the coming year with other people. While you think it might create a sense of accountability, in reality telling people what you want to accomplish gives you the reward as if you already did the hard work. It seem to be counter-intuitive, but according to Derek Sivers,”Repeated psychology tests have proven that telling someone your goal makes it less likely to happen.” It is a wonderful and short TED talk. Take a look:

It seems if we want to accomplish all that we want to do in this coming year, we might be best served by shutting up.

This seems particularly poignant with Haazinu, this week’s Torah portion. Here we read the Song of Moses in which we learn of the indictment of the Israelites’ sins, the prophecy of their punishment, and the promise of God’s ultimate redemption of them. At the start of our portion we read, ” Give ear, you heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.” ( Deuteronomy 32:1). And near the end of the Torah portion we read, ”  And when Moses made an end of speaking all these words to all Israel,  he said unto them: ‘Set your heart unto all the words wherewith I testify against you this day; that you may charge your children there with to observe to do all the words of this law.( Deuteronomy 32:45-46)Like Sivers teaches, if we want set our hearts “to observe to do all the words of this law” we need to shut up. We need to do less talking and more listening.  But, is it possible that all of our listened, praying, and saying that we did on Yom Kippur itself will get in the way of our accomplishments this coming year? Who am I to say?

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A TED Prep for the High Holidays

Over Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur we will get to recite the Unetanneh Tokef, a medieval a piyyutThere we read:

On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by upheaval, who by plague, who by strangling, and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity avert the severe Decree!”

It always seems rather graphic to imagine the various ways that people might die, but perhaps that is what makes this piyyut so memorable. There seems to be some significance to thinking about death in order to get the high of the High Holidays.  I was thinking about this when I saw recent TED talk. It is totally worth watching.

I think that Candy Chang summarized her talk and the High Holidays well in saying, “Preparing for death is one of the most empowering things you can do. Thinking about death clarifies your life.” I know that I will be thinking about what I would write on a wall in the next 10 days.  We know that ” Repentance, Prayer, and Charity avert the severe Decree”, but it also seems that public art and sharing our inner most thoughts with others might also do the trick. Might we pursue ways of doing the same in our own communities( check out the website).

Learning from Animals

In Balak, this week’s Torah portion, we read various stories regarding animals.   Long before we get to the climax of this story where Bilaam’s donkey talks to him, we meet Balak. There we read:

And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. ( Numbers 22:2)

Balak the king of Moav was afraid of the Israelites and  he sent messengers to Balaam. We wants this prophet to curse the Israelites.  But what is his name? Balak the son of Zippor- Balak the son of Bird. And of course this story of animals fits into the larger context of the book of Numbers where the people of Israel are acting like animals. We saw this last week from when they were being struck down by snakes and at the end of this week’s Torah portion when they succumb to animal-like sexual promiscuity. What do we make of all of this “parsha menagerie“?

To understand this we need to focus in on the story of the Bilaam’s donkey. In the story the donkey understood the Angel’s presence while Bilaam just did not understand. And Bilaam a prophet of God not only missed the Angel, but in the process also revealed his own ugly side by striking the donkey.

This reminds me of one of my favorite TED talks.

In this piece, Janine Benyus discusses all the things we can/should learn from animals. Besides all of the amazing biological points that she makes, she teaches us that all too often we think about how to use animals and not what we have to learn from them. The donkey teaches Bilaam and us that animals are to me learned from and not just used. In the books of Numbers and in life we need to mimic the best of animal behavior and not just the worst. In the end we are animals, but that is not all. We need to be more than just animals, but we still have what to learn.

Look Who Is Talking

In Ki Tavo, this week’s Torah portion, it records the laws we are to keep upon our entrance into the Promised Land. There we read;

It shall be on the day that you cross the Jordan to the Land that HaShem, your God, gives you, you shall set up great stones and you shall coat them with plaster. You shall inscribe on them all the words of the Torah, when you cross over, so that you may enter the Land that HaShem, your God, gives you. …” (Deuteronomy 27:2-3)

There are many questions we can ask about these stones. Are these stones built as a cause or an effect of their entering into the land?  And an even simpler question, which direction did these stones face? Were they facing the residence in the Land or their neighbors?

Reflecting on these questions I think about my daily commute into New York City. In my transit through Metro North and Grand Central Station I come into contact with hundreds if not thousands of people daily. As I am prone to do, I take note of what people decided to wear. What aspects of their identity are they choosing to disclose? Is what they are wearing a cause or effect of the places they are traveling, who they are, or who they want to appear to be? Many are wearing a symbol some variety or other. What do these symbols represent? Do they wear these things  for themselves to experience or for others to see?

There is no doubt that this consciousnesses is a product of my choice to wear a kipah. Regardless if we realize it or not we all are communicating with the people around us with the symbols of our lives. In that sense these messages are as much for our neighbors as for ourselves. It is what we tell people about ourselves which informs our aspirations for the people we hope to become. In turn these symbols help inform our habits.

These stones from this week’s Torah portion were as much billboards of the Torah on the banks of the Jordan as the t-shirt a freshman in college wears for his/her first day of college. Even if we are not about to erect a large stone monolith or a 9/11 memorial, we all could take a moment and think about the messages we send and make sure they line up with the people you want to become.

We could also explore how we communicate with the land itself. I found this piece, “The art of wearable communication” by Kate Hartman, to be very compelling.

While delightfully quirky, there is no doubt it takes this conversation about communication to the next level. Look who is talking now.

Emunah Second Birthday

Today Emunah turned two years old. Wow, time does fly. While I think of all of my children all of the time,  I realize that this blog was started on the occasion of her birth. I try to contribute to it once a week in her honor. While I have no illusions that any of my children will read this for many years, I hope that this blog will serve as a testament to my intention as a parent. Years from now I hope that they read it and reflect on how they hope to parent.

I saw this recently and it reinforced my commitment to keep this habit up.

I realize that I have to write with conviction. So I hope that this next year brings me more insight into who I am and who my children are becoming. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmaster of ever afterwards.” Who knows maybe one day some of the stuff I write will be meaningful?

Happy Birthday Emunah.

Happiness Beyond Words

The news these days is really tough. There are so man bad things going on. It is hard to read the news without getting really down. For that reason is particular hard to read the end of Re’eh, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

13You shall keep the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that you have gathered in from your threshing-floor and from your winepress. 14 And you shall rejoice in your feast, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your man-servant, and your maid-servant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within your gates. 15 Seven days shall you keep a feast unto the Lord your God in the place which the Lord shall choose; because the Lord your God shall bless you in all your increase, and in all the work of your hands, and you shall be altogether joyful.( Deuteronomy 16: 13-15)

While everything around us is telling us to worry, the Torah is telling us to be happy. While it seems that law can command you to do actions, it seems hard to charge someone to have a certain disposition. What might it mean to mandate happiness or joy?

What is happiness and how do we obtain it? There seems to be proximate factors and ultimate factors. A quick list might include money ( see Goldman Sacks), power ( see Nietzsche), sex ( see Freud),  a combination of these (see Scarface),  meaning  (see Frankel), or flow ( see Csikszentmihalyi). Seeing that many of us are sharing in the bad news of the day I want to think about the idea of joy being the experience of joining something bigger than ourselves.

Often our lives seem trivial. But joining in with others helps us think that we just might be part of something bigger. On Succot it has to do with joining in the national experience of the Temple. Today we join in by helping out, communicating that we care ( usually in its food form),  or just showing up. In many ways we can see the joy of belonging in the simple act of singing which transcends words in bringing joy to people’s lives. It seems only appropriate to learn this Torah from the Rebbe of not worrying and being happy, Bobby McFerrin . Even if you cannot get into the news I hope that you will enjoy this video.

Certain happiness is beyond words.

Housing our IP

In VaYakel, this week’s Torah portion, we learn of Bezalel the master artist behind the creation of the Tabernacle and all of the accouterments. There we read ,” And God has put in his heart that he may teach..” ( Exodus 35:14). On this Ibn Ezra comments that some scholars have a great deal of wisdom but do not always want to or have the ability to share what they know with others. It is noteworthy that the Torah tells us that Bezalel was given a knowing heart coupled with the ability and desire to teach. This project of the community would not have come together without a leader like Bezalel.

I am struck but how much brilliance of our community is locked up in  intellectual property issues. While people should be rewarded for their efforts, it seems strange that we limit ourselves to antiquated rules of who owns Torah. We need to find ways to get our teachers to realize their God given gifts to teach and to incentivize them to share it on any and every platform.

I encourage you to watch this TED talk.

Larry Lessig’s points seem to ask the right questions.  How do we reward the innovators while not hampering innovation itself? How do we build for the future?

When discussing children in his Prophet, Kahlil Gibran wrote:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

I have to ask, do we own our ideas any more or less then we own our children? Bezalel asks us to reconsider the house that me might build. This could be a house for God, our children, or for ideas themselves. What are we doing to insure that we creating an environment in which we are all driven to share the overflow of these wonderful ideas? They are clearly the key to our sustained happiness if not our collective survival.

I encourage you to read up on Aharon Varady’s  Open Siddur Project. This represents an interesting venture that is asking us all to teach from an open heart.


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