Posts Tagged ‘ethics’

Two Opposites and a Harmonious Resolution

June 27, 2009

Kabbalah teaches that the universe is built on a tripod, consisting of two opposites and a harmonious resolution. This is the pattern for everything in life. Stability and confidence is impossible without the support of all three legs of the tripod. We cannot have “shalom” without all three. This tripod – and its attendant challenge of conflict resolution – is inherent inside each one of us, in all of nature, of mankind as a whole, and in the spiritual realm as well.  –Korach (Numbers 16-18) Conflict Resolution

For the scholars of scripture they have an advantage over the rest of us. They have the time to think through some issues, take a step back, and perceive patterns that are opaque to us while we are in the trenches of the war of life. This week’s Torah portion is such an insight and when you think about it we can gain perspective on our lives, our community our country and the world.

I am struck by the conclusions to be reached by this statement. You see, if we are talking about a tripod, then if you take away any one of the legs it will fall. You might, as I did at first, focus on the harmonious resolution leg as the “most important.” Take it away and the tripod falls. For true harmony to evolve there must be recognition of discordant views. No two people (or for that matter two countries) can have identical views. Our thoughts, brain process, perceptions and conclusions are like fingerprints — they define us as unique individuals. So even if you say “I agree” you might find out sooner or later that you agreed with something the other person did not say or mean.

What this means to me is that for me to strive to live in a harmonious world I need to seek out both people who see things in similar ways to me AND people who don’t. I must engage BOTH the people who seem to agree with my world perspective AND those who don’t. Standing in the shoes of both “camps” is the only way I can perceive where there is commonality, conflict or room to compromise. With the recognition that life is a process and not a series of events comes the foundation of the process of harmony. Harmonious relations do not represent a static place of equilibrium, but rather a dynamic place of interaction, catalytic relationships and evolving development of ourselves, our society and our world.

Harmony and the whole tripod fails when we deny the existence of other points of view. If we deny the validity of other points of view we deny their existence and we deny the speaker the right to hold such views and express them. We take away one leg of the stool and the tripod fails — because there is nothing left to process toward a harmonious resolution.



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What Will Your Children Remember?

May 31, 2008

This week’s Torah portion brings us to focus on our own lives and how we impact others, especially our children. What will they remember about you when you are gone? What will bring a smile to their faces, warmth in their heart and guidance for the development of their soul, their morality and ethics in a complex world? 

Only you can answer these questions for yourself and only you can make decisions today, now, on where this is all heading and how you might want steer a different course.

These are challenging questions. Knowing right from wrong is perfectly easy on certain extreme things. It doesn’t take much effort to figure out that killing a defenseless human being is wrong or that giving a helping hand to someone in need is right. But I believe that the real test of character and depth of a person’s soul is the effort made in determining right from wrong before acting in a complex world with competing needs and pressures.

It is exhausting enough to just live in this world. Taking time to exercise your mind, body and soul can seem just too much. But for myself, if I break it down into tiny baby steps, I find I can pull my rear end off the chair and do 10-15 minutes on the treadmill, write a letter to my kids, or think about the future of my grandchildren. If I allow myself just a moment to consider what is happening in my neighborhood, my society and the world I might come up with an idea to help people. I might even come up with an idea that gets my “motor running” out of retirement and into life. 

When I am confronted with a moral challenge it usually involves some vague feeling of right and wrong on the one hand, and either expediency or urgency (“necessity”) on the other hand. In my youth I am sorry to report I tended toward expediency followed by rationalization. As I got a little older, nearing thirty years of age, I began to realize that I was defining myself by my lapses in judgment, integrity and good will. One little step at a time, as an imperfect man in an imperfect world, I set out to change my course and to tell the truth even when it hurt a little to admit my errors — especially to myself.

I learned that self-disclosure empowered me. Nobody could hold anything over me because I was free to disclose my own failings and flaws. After a while it occurred to me that my ability to trust other people was not nearly as important as their ability and willingness to trust me at my word. So I made good on promises even when it was very inconvenient to do so.

I can remember a couple of debts that I had guaranteed for a failed business and I had moved out of state and out of the practical reach of the creditors of the business. But I had personally assured these people who extended the credit on the strength of trusting me. So it took years, but I paid it off. I sure would like to have had that money for myself, but at the end of my life I believe I will look back on that as something to be proud of and that if I had kept the money I would have that gnawing feeling as I expired, that I hadn’t done as well as I could have. 

My children know I don’t lie to them. My wife knows I don’t lie to her. My friends and business associates know I don’t lie to them and that I go out of my way to anticipate any misunderstandings that could arise so we are all confident in each other’s intent. And I don’t just avoid lying. I go out of my way to tell the truth and I don’t withhold it unless I believe it would serve no constructive purpose and would actually hurt or harm people.

A funny thing happened along the way. I decided to help people going through the agony of foreclosures and published a blog and gave of my time and money to people in need. I made friends, helped people and now, despite no intent to do so, I have a business with associates of good intent whom I trust and who trust me. 

My hope is that my children and grandchildren have come to know this about me and that I serve as model for their lives, despite all the mistakes and lapses in parenting to which I now confess and all those which I don’t even realize. I see in them the sense of integrity in their lives and the willingness of others to have complete faith in them. I like that. I’m proud of them. 

I’m blessed to have good relatives, a good wife, good children, and good friends whom I love and who love me. I’ll mess up more before I shed this mortal coil, but on the whole, I think I am doing OK. 

—Neil Garfield, May 31, 2008

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Here is an article I found on the net that I thought was particularly good reading:

The Head of a Family Tree 
Torah Portion: Bamidbar
by Rabbi Stephen Baars 

 

“When one learns as a child, it is like ink on fresh paper; when one learns as an old man, it is like ink on erased paper.” (Pirkei Avos 4:25)

 

There is a true story about an 8-year-old boy who came home from school one day to find his house on fire. As the blaze raged on, the boy’s mother stood there and cried. “It is awful to lose our home and possessions,” the mother sobbed, “But most of all, we can never replace our family tree which recorded our lineage back to King David!”

“Don’t worry, Mom,” said the boy, “I’ll start a new lineage.” (The boy went on to become a great 19th century rabbi, known as the Maggid of Mezrich.)

 

* * * 

THE KEY INGREDIENTS

We live in a very materialistic society. Many choose to spend their time acquiring objects rather than acquiring their children’s admiration.

We tend to worry more over bills than morals. We tend to get upset with others quicker than we apologize.

These are the values of our society. The question is do we want to make these the values of our children? How we choose to approach life is going to be how our children will, too. Following the path of society will make us as memorable to our descendants as an old movie.

Here’s a typical scenario to consider:

When you get a dent in the car, do you panic and get angry? Or do you put it into perspective and realize there are more important things in life to fret about?

Getting upset may help vent your anger – but it also shows your child what is really important in life. The car may be repaired and the dent removed, but the dent in your child’s personality does not come out so easily.

Children will not ask their parents for advice if the parents are not perceived as being truly happy. If life is always “getting to you,” then your kids are not going to ask you how to manage life. In fact, they’ll probably want to give you advice instead!

 

* * * 

SOMEONE THE CHILDREN WILL BE PROUD OF

The Torah tells us that Abraham would actually seek out strangers and offer them a meal. This was not the norm then and it’s certainly not the norm now. It affected his children and grandchildren. And until today, the Jewish People are known for their kindness to strangers.

Will you teach your kids that it’s more important to have the most exquisite sofa – or to have the most guests using that sofa?

Be kinder than everyone else… Be more forgiving than everyone else… Be more giving and willing to help than everyone else… Be more patient than everyone else…

Your generosity toward others is more likely to create an exceptional child than any amount of schooling – no matter how high the tuition.

A story:

Two women, Sarah and Rachel, recently met in the grocery store. Since Sarah was pregnant, Rachel asked if there was anything she could do to help out. Sarah’s mother (who was visiting from out-of-town) said, “Sure, I need to go to the other side of town to visit my elderly uncle. Will you drive me back and forth?”

Sarah immediately pulled Rachel aside and apologized, saying that her mother didn’t realize that Rachel had four small children of her own to take care of.

“It’s fine, I’d be happy to take your mother,” Rachel said. “I’ll just put all the kids in the car and we’ll go for a ride. It’s good for my children to see me doing a kindness for a stranger. It’s my pleasure, it really is.”

With the high price of education – and the small price of patience, charity, and kindness – shouldn’t we be more involved with the “bargains?”

We are willing to put in the effort to make our children richer and more comfortable than ourselves. How much more meaningful would it be to make them happier and kinder than ourselves.

 

* * * 

CHOOSE YOUR LEGACY

When your children reflect back on your life, will they see an inspiring leader who made a profound impact on the world – or will they see a parent who merely “followed the crowd,” just another brick in the wall?

You don’t start a lineage by conforming.

A good rule to follow: Instead of worrying what everyone else is saying about you, worry that your children will have something good to say about you, to everyone else.

We find this principle expressed in this week’s parsha. When God commands Moses to count the Jewish People, Moses is told to enlist the help of the tribal heads: “And with you (Moses) shall be one man from each tribe, each man should be the head of his family” (Numbers 1:4).

Rabbi Moshe Chaifetz explained the expression, “the head of his family” as someone who is the beginning of a new lineage. The “head” is the start of a new line. In other words, someone the children will be proud of.

What do we want our children to remember about us? Our striving for a more enriched life? Our quest for constant personal growth? Will they look to our lives for inspiration, for solutions to their problems? Will we be for them a lasting influence – or nothing more than a quaint memory? What a depressing thought if our children would think of us as irrelevant!

It would be nice to think that we could be sources of wisdom for our children. That they will bring to us the problems they face. That they will seek our advice. That in a crisis they will ask, “How would Mom and Dad deal with that?”

We are already going to spend a major amount of time, money and effort on our children. Why not spend a little more effort … and transform them into our legacy.

 

* * * 

BRAINSTORMING QUESTIONS TO PONDER

Question 1: If you could write your own tombstone, what five praises or achievements would you like engraved on it?

Question 2: Ask your children who their heroes are. Are they the kind of role models you would chose for them?

Question 3: If you could magically instill one character trait or moral value into your children, what would it be? Now – what are you doing to make that a reality?

Author Biography:
Rabbi Stephen Baars came to Washington, D.C. in 1992 and serves as Executive Director of Aish DC/MD/VA. Aish has classes almost every night of the week in its N. Bethesda location, and day classes all over the city. Aish’s student body includes Senators, Congressmen, business professionals, and Jews from all walks of life and religious backgrounds.

Born and educated in London, Baars received rabbinical ordination after nine years of learning at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem. With a wry sense of humor and creative approach to teaching, Baars is famed as the only rabbi to perform stand-up comedy at The Improv in Santa Monica, California.

Steve is married to Ruth Baars and they are blessed with six children.


Personal Covenant with G-d

January 5, 2008

“Only watch yourself and watch your soul scrupulously”

That is the literal translation of Verse 9, Deuteronomy 4. 

There is no doubt that like all law and the evolution and progress of thought, there have been changes in the way the scriptures are read and understood. But a few things stand out to me that make life more understandable and more meaningful.

We are enjoined from changing any word of the law. Some commentators take this to mean a warning to the scribes to make sure they get it right when they copy the good books. That’s probably true. Others take it to mean that every word of the Bible is to be taken as literally true even if the meaning and context of those words has changed over millennia. That’s probably an overstatement, and yet it has an appeal, since human nature is given to stray when given the room to do so. 

Others have taken it to mean that you should use the words of the book as your guide and not the interpretation of some current teacher, preacher, prophet or rabbi who might have an agenda that strays from God’s will. This is probably correct too, although proving it takes us to other verses.  We are constantly reminded to avoid idolatry — the making of graven images and other objects whose importance rises above our covenant with the Lord. We have to remember that crime and chaos was rampant for thousands of years while mankind strove to create order and a functioning society. 

The idolatry and graven images admonition then is repeated because as humans we are so inclined to replace our true knowledge of right and wrong with some substitute that we think serves us better in the short run. Commentators call that “situational” ethics, which is merely changing the rules when the rules don’t allow you to do what you want to do. 

Verse 9 is usually translated as “but take utmost care” and it misses the point of the original words whose meaning is as relevant today as it ever was. Why some scribe changed it is testament to the vagueries of human nature. To watch ourselves (our bodies) and our souls scrupulously means to “call upon” (pray) G-d and observe G-d’s laws above all others, while protecting ourselves and our families from the consequences of transgressions of secular law or secular interactions. 

It means then that not one word should be changed, as you, in your heart understand those words, and only where that understanding is within the context of your covenant with G-d’s laws.  As an action items it means think for yourself and listen to the words of others but not accept them or follow them without scrupulously watching yourself and your soul. Listen to the words of those around you and consider the source, no matter exalted they think they are or how holy others view them.

This empowering message gives each individual the power to enter into a personal and unique relationship with G-d, but excludes the ability of others to do it for you. It also make you accountable for you say, think or do and not someone else whom you later discover was mistaken or worse. 

Where is the relevance? All around us. Take for example the very existence of money and the way it is viewed. If you think about it, money is a belief system — probably a necessary one to keep society running — but simply an agreement and understanding that when you accept it in exchange for something you did or made, your belief is that someone else will do the same for you. 

Money then is neither good nor bad. It is a strategic tool we use to make life easier to navigate. Yet many if not most people have imbued money with much more meaning than that. It connotes (to idolatry worshippers) power, freedom, justice, and wealth. For many it is elevated high above the laws of G-d, and has replaced the last vestiges of an individual covenant with G-d with greed, jealousy, abuse, murder, war, and lust for sex and power.

Whether it is Enron, WorldCom, credit cards, fossil fuels, medical care, education, or the mortgage meltdown crisis, the common theme is that people got into positions where they had money, power and wealth and they would do anything to preserve, maintain and expand it. They would even destroy the life plans of millions, perhaps billions of other human beings to achieve their aims. 

When I was practicing as an attorney, and I represented people who had broken the law in these “white collar” crimes, I was constantly struck with the same thought: they had the brains, the opportunity, and the means to do right in the world and still  achieve their material goals. Why take the road that destroys others?

And when I look around me at people in my age group and higher, and I see contentment, wealth, peace, and good-natured society, I ask myself, why does anyone take any other path?