out of love
out of fear
out of love
out of fear
At the start of every school year we take our 6th graders aside for some special Tefilah learning that helps them get ready to participate in Middle School Tefilah. I returned to my office after the first of these special sessions, called “6th Grade Tefilah Bootcamp” to find the following thought-provoking prompts and responses on my desk. I hung them on my walls and took some time to think about what I found there…
I am thrilled that our 6th graders have so much to say about Tefilah and are so comfortable sharing their ideas. I know that their journey through Middle School will bring much nuance and insight to these emerging ideas as well and look forward to that. In the meantime, since I am not able to attend the next installment of bootcamp I wrote some responses that will be shared by one of our Jewish Studies teachers. What would you say differently? What would you add? What would you challenge?
I was quite interested in seeing the notes from last week’s chalk talk. I am so happy to see my friends in 6th grade thinking about tefilah in such diverse and dynamic ways. Here are a few things I would share with the 6th grade if I had a chance. Perhaps you could share these with them:
This week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, ends with the idea that no one should come to God empty-handed (Deut. 16:16). As I heard these words chanted from the Torah this morning, I found myself wondering whether it’s actually possible to show up empty-handed. To me, empty-handed implies that we’ve got nothing. Absolutely nothing. To bring. To offer. To share, contribute, teach. But if the human condition is one of inherent abundance, can any of us really show up empty-handed? If we can’t bring the fruits of our harvest or the choicest of our flock, certainly we can still bring our presence, our humanity, our stories, our listening ears, our loving hearts. And if we bring these things are we truly empty-handed? Or are we actually overflowing with abundance?
Believing in the possibility of empty-handedness seems to have a built in bias for materialism. You can only truly be empty-handed if you believe that empty-handedness is about the stuff that you have in your hands. No stuff in your hands? Then you’re empty-handed. If we make the move that says that what we bring is much more than what’s physically in our hands, then it’s not really possible to show up before God or anywhere else empty-handed. Which raises the more interesting and sometimes problematic question of what we really bring to each experience, encounter, and moment.
Rather than thinking about what we’re not bringing, let’s think about what we are bringing. The inherent abundance of our being, much of which we share with others simply by virtue of being alive, and much which is specially our own.
And if we are physically empty-handed, doesn’t it just make it that much easier to reach out and joins arms with one another? Seems like we need a bit more of that in our lives these days!
The other day I was driving on Roswell Road.
Sandy Springs, technically.
It was about 6:15 pm.
I knew the person.
In the car.
In front of me.
Which made sense.
Because we were headed to the same place.
In the rear view mirror.
I knew the person.
In the car.
Which was surprising.
I wasn’t expecting.
To see her.
And didn’t know.
Had a son.
I knew everyone.
In every car.
On Roswell Road.
At about 6:15 pm.
Not on Roswell Road.
At said time.
On Johnson Ferry.
And Sandy Springs Circle.
And so on.
Grandmas and Grandpas.
And so on.
And like the car in front of me.
Today’s Hebrew calendar date is the 9th of Av (Tisha b’Av). Tisha b’Av is a day of mourning. It commemorates the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples in Jerusalem. It commemorates other tragedies in Jewish history.
There are many reasons given for the destruction of the 2nd Temple. There are military reasons, economic reasons, cultural reasons and spiritual reasons. Among the spiritual reasons is a rabbinic tradition that attributes the destruction to the pervasiveness of baseless hatred (sinat chinam) between Jews and their fellow Jews.
Given a series of current events that have stressed (to put it lightly) the relationship between Israel and Diaspora (mostly North American) Jews and the relationship between Ultra Orthodox and non-Ultra Orthodox Jews, I suspect that many Jews are exploring the idea of sinat chinam this Tisha b’Av. Hopefully many Jews will explore the theme of sinat chinam while simultaneously renewing their commitment to finding positive, constructive, healthy, and good ways forward for the Jewish community and Israel. Hopefully Tisha b’Av ends up being a hopeful observance.
As I watch the tensions mount and the schisms widen I can’t help but marvel at the absurdity of it all. It’s absurd to me because, from where I stand, it’s obvious that we are all bound together. Hatred, rather than pushing us apart, actually brings us closer together. Discrimination hurts not only those who are discriminated against, but also those who do the discriminating. And again, it doesn’t sever, it binds. Deeply. At the heart of all the Jewish in-fighting is the mistaken notion that somehow our existence isn’t irrevocably intertwined. That’s the naivety of hatred. And all the tactics of fear, discrimination, hatred, stereotyping, and the such simply bind us to one another in mutually unhealthy ways.
Once people realize the naivety of hatred and realize that hating isn’t good for anyone, maybe we can start to envision heathly ways to co-exist. I look forward to visiting an Israel free of hate and discrimination, where all different types of people are able to live autonomous and meaningful lives that allow individuals and groups to be who and what they are, without infraction from others. The only way for any of us to actually achieve this autonomous and meaningful context of living is for all of us to achieve it. Together. So long as we think that hatred, discrimination and all the stuff of sinat chinam is the way forward, we will only add to the suffering that Tisha b’Av tries to show us.
During the opening “rant” of Episode 830 of his bi-weekly WTF Podcast, Marc Maron said something that resonated with me. He said, “We’ve gotta keep the world big.” I like that. I like it because, for at least a little while, it seems like lots of people have been trying to make the world smaller. Consider: “It’s a Small World”, globalization, the internet. Not to mention echo-chambers, bubbles, and all that. A small world has its potential upside– a greater sense of connectivity, of interconnectedness, interdependence, and so on… some of the promise of globalization and internet-ization. But Maron got me thinking about why a big world is a better than a small world and what it means to keep the world big. It seems to me that the art of living, the task we collectively and individually face, is keeping the world big while still recognizing and honoring the interconnectedness and interdependence that seem so undeniably obvious and yet so elusive and easy to dismiss at the same time.
Maron’s comment was made in the context of setting up his interview with David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker. He was praising The New Yorker for helping keep the world big by providing diverse, thoughtful, international content that spans genres and subject areas. For Maron, keeping the world big seems to be about keeping an open mind, staying connected to and challenged by culture, and to some extent, engaging with diverse and even opposite points of view, narratives, and ways of being.
I’m inclined to have a similar view when it comes to keeping the world big. I’d simply add that part of keeping one’s personal world big means actively cultivating spaciousness and expansiveness of heart, mind, and soul. Whether that means lingering in the pause between each breath a bit longer, waiting a bit longer to jump to conclusions, listening 1% more than usual, casting one’s gaze a bit wider when scanning the horizon, or actively remaining or re-opening to possibilities of different sorts. Keeping the world big means being willing to revisit core assumptions, habits of mind, ways of being, identity anchors, and patterns of all kinds. It means being willing to take a hard look at suffering, at pain, at fear, at the stuff that pushes us towards seeking shelter in the smallness that we think might keep us safe from the radically vast wilderness of existence.
I’m a fan of WTF and always grateful when I find something there that I reminds me of something that I believe and helps me think about it in new ways.
Everyone else in the hotel has their plans for the day and we have ours. People look at you a little funny and with a tinge of pity when they see you dressed in funerary garb.
The limo arrives at the house. We check to see if it has lathes for car seats. We head to the synagogue. Eventually others arrive. The funeral begins.
My wife and her siblings all spoke beautifully. They found the right words and stories for the occasion. I know that each of them found meaning in sorting through a lifetime of stuff, each a little surprised at how the stories wove together. Funerals are like people, similar in many respects but no two the same. I sat with my daughter. All around her there were tears and some laughter too. What she calls “sweet and sour” tears. Watching my wife lead the El Maale prayer in honor of her father I think about the strength in each of us and the need to honor those we love however difficult it may be.
Riding to the cemetery. My father in law is to be buried in a newly dedicated section. There aren’t any stones there yet and only a few markers. It’s oddly spacious for such a place. A longtime family rabbi, Sharyn Henry, facilitates the interment. My daughter throws flowers into the grave rather than dirt. We shovel dirt. I feel compelled to shovel more than the usual amount. For some reason I keep the Kaddish card. We are deeply touched that so many joined us at the cemetery and returned with us for a meal at the Shul.
While the rest of the family heads back to the house to sit and be together, I take the kids for a swim back at the hotel. It’s the single most exciting gift I can give them and it feels good to be in the pool. After swimming we stop at a book store so I can buy a few books for our trip to Alaska (which begins tomorrow). I also buy a few books to give as gifts to my brother and sister in law and mother in law.
Dinner is a testament to the sacred power of friendship. We’re joined by two couples who are friends of the family and of my father and mother in law in particular. Friendship is so powerful and touching because it’s completely voluntary. Somehow people connect across the vast multitudes of time and space to forge a bond that eventually becomes a bond of love. There’s really no other way to say it.
Shiva is an important part of the healing process. Tonight I realized that part of shiva is acknowledging that death transforms relationships. There were people at Shiva tonight that we may never see again and also people that my wife and I have never met before. There was time dedicated to sharing stories about my father in law but it didn’t really get going. I wonder what happens to all the stories, all the experiences, all the moments of meaning.
Tomorrow we leave Pittsburgh for a previously scheduled trip to Alaska. It will be hard to leave but we are eager to fulfill the vision we set in motion when we made these plans. My father in law always wanted to visit Alaska and I believe he was not only envious but also so excited for us to go. We will certainly think of him often when we are there.
All of a sudden it’s a new day. I guess it’s obvious but you only have one date of death. Quickly time starts to accumulate.
Today my daughter got a napkin and wiped tears from my wife’s eyes.
Then she sat in my father in law’s oversized arm chair and said it felt like he was sitting beside her.
My son asked questions. Some we could answer authentically and some we couldn’t.
Visits with the rabbi and the funeral home. Lots of micro-decisions about a subject that feels anything but micro.
Eulogies need to be written.
Conversations about what happens when you die. Is there such a thing as unfinished business or is death the finishing of all business?
Facebook messages posted.
People start to bring food in earnest. They call and check in.
Some measure of relief as people indicate whether they are coming to the funeral or not.
While days are a convenient way of marking time, it seems more helpful to think in terms of moments. How am I now? Now? Moving through different emotions.
My wife was out running the Peachtree Rod Race. And making good time.
My phone rang. It was my mother in law. She rarely calls me directly.
I answered the phone and she told me through her tears that Jim, her husband, had died.
I called Loren, still recovering at the finish line. I have terrible news, I say, your dad is gone.
When we’re all together we tell the kids, 6 and 3. They’re sad, especially Hadara, but they’re mostly upset that their perfect day of swimming and baking cookies and launching champagne poppers has gone out the window.
We pack not only for Pittsburgh but for our planned adventure to Alaska. Jim dreamed of going to Alaska but never got there. We’ll go for him.
Delta is helpful then not then helpful again. Hilton hotels are helpful then not and then helpful again. The same with Alamo.
Peter and Karen stop by to check on us and play with the kids a bit. Lots of phone calls and texts as details come together.
We lnd, get picked up, and go to the house to hug Cathy and cry a bit.
14 hours later and we are now in Pittsburgh. She’s at the house and I’m at the hotel trying to get the kids to rest. They’re watching fireworks displays on TV. It’s the 4th of July.
Its hard to get beyond these simple descriptions. There’s much to say but the words aren’t yet formed. I’m trying to be mindful of what’s unfolding around and within me. And mostly I’m trying to be compassionate and present and attentive and aware.
I borrowed the title of this post from a blog post written for Inc. by Gordon Tredgold on 6/28/17. A colleague posted Tredgold’s article to our email distribution list and asked for feedback. Sometimes when I receive an article like this I prefer to write my own version before (or in place of) reading the original article. That’s what I’m doing here. But here’s a link to Tredgold’s article in case you want his excellent thoughts!
Since leaders are basically human beings with certain responsibilities in the context of a cause or organization it makes sense to think of habits that leaders might cultivate since human beings are in the business of cultivating habits. Rather than falling into habits through a kind of mindless default, there’s power in consciously selecting and then habituating ourselves to certain habits. We can quibble over whether the following list contains habits, mindsets, dispositions, ways of being, traits, or some other form of personal commitment. But when I think of good habits for leaders, “these are they”:
Well, I’ve come up with 7 instead of 9 but I’m pretty happy with the list. I’d love anyone’s thoughts or feedback that might have read this far!