Posts Tagged 'Yitro'

Revelation of Universal Design

Sally was excited to go to camp as a new camper. At the same time, she was anxious to see how it would work in light of her being deaf. She was hopeful that it would not be a problem because she knew how to read lips. Sadly, some things just did not work for her. Evening programs that were held outside were alienating. She could never really trust the blindfolded trust-walk. At night with her bunkmates in their cabin she was left out of conversations happening in the shadows. Camp was supposed to be a place where she could belong, but that was not her experience. While she knew it was not her peers’ intention, she felt less than; she surely did not feel like she belonged. 

There are echoes of this feeling among the Israelites when Moshe tried to free them from slavery. In an effort to win their emancipation, Moshe went to Pharaoh to ask if the Israelites could go on a holiday outing. Instead of granting the Israelites a celebration in the wilderness, Pharaoh increased the burden upon them by maintaining their quota of brick production while cutting their supply of straw. Frustrated by their increased work load the Israelites complained to Moshe and Aaron. They said, “May God look upon you, and judge; because you have made our very scent to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants” (Exodus 5:21). Prior to this decree they were slaves, but they could at least take pride in the fruit of their labor. It seems that the last straw was not the lack of straw, but the degradation of working all the time and not being productive. They thought that they smelled worthless. They felt less than; they did not feel like they belonged.  

We are left wondering why the Israelites perceived that the Egyptians saw their odor? This blending of sight and smell indicates a deep insight into their perceived lack of value. They were embarrassed that the shoddy quality of their work reflected some lesser quality of their being. We see a similar synthesis of senses in last week’s Torah portion, Yitro. At Sinai they saw the sound of thunder (Exodus 20:15). In Egypt their odor was exposed, at Sinai the sublime beauty of God was revealed. 

What did not work for the slaves making shoddy bricks and did not work for Sally at camp might offer us a deep understanding of the nature of revelation. When we feel excluded, we are embarrassed, and we feel that we do not belong. When we look past the content of revelation to the modality, we see a profound call for Univeral Design. Universal Design is the design of buildings, products or environments to make them accessible to all people, regardless of age, disability or other factors. The synesthesia at Sinai was designed to be inclusive without diminishing the experience for anyone. While Sally might not have been able to hear the sound of thunder, she would have been able to see it. If someone could neither see or hear they could have felt the vibrations. Universal Design is not a synonym for compliance with accessible design standards, rather the aesthetic of synesthesia at Sinai is a standard of beauty, spirituality, and communication to all.  

In describing the Israelite’s experience at Sinai in Deuteronomy it says, “those who stand here with us this day before the Lord our God, and also with them who is not here with us this day”. (Deuteronomy 29:13-14) What does this mean if revelation at Sinai happened thousands of years ago? 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 experience revelation.  

Every soul is unique, every Jew has their place at Sinai, and everyone belongs in our community. By adapting Universal Design strategies, we can make sure that everyone has an extraordinary experience. As we celebrate JDAIM, Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month, we need to reconnect to the lesson from the synesthesia at Sinai. As we learn from Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: every day a heavenly voice of revelation goes out from Sinai (Avot 6:2). Designing with every soul in mind is not easy, but we get to work on it every day. No one should feel less than, or left in the dark. 

– Links to other posts on synesthesia

I am Me: Modeling Authenticity

In Yitro, this week’s Torah portion, we get the Ten Commandments. In simple terms it seems that the commandment are directives as to what we should or should not do. For this reason that first commandment seems complicated. There we read, “I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage.” (Exodus 20:2) This seems more like a PSA than a law. Most interpret this as a negative precept “not to entertain the idea that there is any god but the Eternal.” ( Rambam Minyan Mitzvot) Clearly the belief in God is foundational to the Bible and I know that they believed in other gods in Egypt, but I have trouble imagining that this was first message that God wanted to give this band of recently liberated slaves. If this is the case,, what is the true meaning of this commandment?

At the simplest level in this first commandment God is identifying God’s self to the Israelites. As if God is saying, “I am Me”. In this context, it is less of a injunction against believing in other gods and more of God showing up as God’s authentic self. It resonates with the words of Polonius when he said:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee! (Hamlet, Act-1, Scene-III)

To these slaves who have been told who they are and who they are supposed to be this is a powerful message. God is modelling what it means to be free. Show up as who you want to be. As Brené Brown says:

Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.

That must have felt liberating. This ideating set a foundation of authenticity upon which to build the rest of the commandments, Torah, and Jewish life.

I have been thinking about this recently during the entire Bernie Meme experience after the inauguration. Most people might have been offended by being the butt of all of these jokes, but not Bernie. He is the model of authenticity. Bernie knows exactly who he is. He was right on brand. Not only was Bernie not offended, he used the moment to get attention for the causes he believes in and the meme to sell merchandise which earned over $1.8 Million for Vermont charities he supports.

Image
Forget it, Donny, you’re out of your element!

On another level there might be deep connection between being true to yourself and the prohibition to believe in other gods. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” If God knows who God is and we know who we are, everything else is already taken.

Separation of Powers: The Wisdom of 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 named for Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law. He did not just come to visit and bring his daughter and grandchildren back to Moshe. Yitro plays a critical role of giving Moshe the feedback on his leadership that he needed to hear. His critique seems to bring about the giving of the Torah. Right before revelation we read:

Next day, Moshe sat as magistrate among the people, while the people stood about Moshe from morning until evening. But when Moshe’s father-in-law saw how much he had to do for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone, while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” Moshe replied to his father-in-law, “It is because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I decide between one person and another, and I make known the laws and teachings of God.” 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: 13-19)

What is “not good” about what Moshe is doing?” 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. It just was not efficient or efficacious for Moshe to be playing this role.

On another level Yitro is helping Moshe see that God’s law is just that God’s and not Moshe’s. It is noteworthy that in the Haftarah from Isaiah we see God alone sitting on God’s Throne. There we read:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I beheld my Lord seated on a high and lofty throne; and the skirts of God’s robe filled the Temple. ( Isaiah 6:1)

The coupling of this Haftarah to Yitro underscores the notion that Moshe was never supposed to be construed of as God. It was not Moshe who was seated in judgement “from morning until evening”, but God alone.

On a third level we see Yitro’s critique as the birth of the separations of powers. One of the fundamental principles of the United States Constitution is the balance and separation of power among the three branches of the Government: the Legislative, the Executive branch, and the Judiciary. The distribution of power among the three branches is meant to ensure that no one branch of the government is able to gain a disproportionate amount of power over the other two. Each branch has separate and unique powers the others cannot impinge upon, but which are nonetheless subject to acceptance or rejection by the other two branches. This is how the balance of power is kept in check. James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, wrote:

The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands… may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny

Yitro’s message was one to preempt the tyranny of the Executive over the Judiciary.

Yitro’s message could not come at a better time. It is clear that Trump needs to understand that he is not his office and his office needs to be kept in check.

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.” In light of this quote it seems clear that Yitro was trying to separate Moshe from that throne of power. It is only when Moshe is removed from the potential of becoming a tyrant that we could receive the Torah.
We are living in a time of tyranny where the President thinks he is above the law.  The constitution of this republic and this democracy itself is in peril. Who will be our Yitro?

Which Story to Tell? : Yitro’s Help

As the line goes, ” It is not that I think the glass is half-empty, I see the glass half full, but of poison.” Often how we frame the situation actually becomes the situation. I was thinking about that again when looking at Yitro, this week’s Torah portion.

When Yitro shows up to reconnect with Moshe after the heroic exodus from Egypt he brings his wife and two sons. 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 )

Why does the Torah take this moment to share with us the details of the meaning of the names of his two sons? As I have discussed in the past, Yitro is the consummate consultant. It is clear to me that Yitro did not just bring his family, but he put before Moshe a choice. Did Moshe want to tell the Gershom story or the Eliezer story? Gershom is a story of  being alienated, victimized, and marginalized. This is juxtaposed telling the story of Eliezer which is the story of being relationship with a God that helped them. While the Gershom story is one of scarcity the Eliezer story is one of abundance. Does this new nation want to live in fear or rejoice in the splendor of a special relationship with God? You might think that would make the choice easy to make, but it is not. The Eliezer story depends on a belief in things that cannot be seen and often feels out of reach. This is compared to the Gershom story which is sadly easy to access. Which story did Moshe want to tell?

Image result for fork in the road

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? Has any things changed after the shooting at the Tree of Life Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh? Has everything changed? 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 if we want this nation to move from surviving to thriving we need to decide which story we want to tell.

– Also see Consummate Consultant : The Essence of Exodus and Being a Good Consultant , On Organizational Coaching: Yitro Helps Us Start with Why. and  Work Life Balance: Lessons from Yitro

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” .

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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