Focus on the good you CAN do in 5781

Dear Families,

As a teacher, I have always said that I may end up in “copyright hell” but I will be with all the teachers I have known and admired. Stealing another person’s thoughts or words is a big “no-no” in rabbinic literature and it is also illegal. So, I am only partially joking about “copyright hell” but the truth is we learn so much from others and the main requirement is to give credit. While teaching Talmudic texts my students have asked, “Does it really matter who all these rabbis are — this one said in the name of this one in the name of this one?” Do we really care? The answer is YES! We need to know who said something to help us evaluate the context and more. However, never forget that you can learn something from someone you may not agree with or even someone who may be a “bad” person. The lesson is to always quote your sources and don’t take credit for something that isn’t yours. In reality, quoting another gives more credence to your words.

All this being said, I try hard to share my sources. So I now share two things I learned and re-learned from an article on this week on Elul. Rabbi Benay Lappe writes about the charge we have during this month of Elul to do teshuvah and usually that means looking at the things we have done wrong in order to do better. He shares these thoughts (and gives credit to Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, who gives credit to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch): 

“…the single impoverished question I end up asking myself right around now is the simplistic: What have I done wrong? Now, I’m not suggesting that you completely ignore that question this year, but… What if instead of asking ourselves: What are the bad things we’ve done? We ask: What are the good things that we haven’t done? What if focusing on the good that we haven’t done but now realize we want to do, turns out to be a better motivator for changing our lives and actually living out our values than reflecting on what we did wrong? 

“Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in his book ‘Jewish Wisdom,’ tells the story of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the leader of the then-new Jewish movement in 19th century Germany called Orthodoxy, who surprised his students one day when, as he neared the end of his life, he insisted on traveling to Switzerland. Perplexed, his students asked him why such a journey was so important to him. In response, he explained, When I stand shortly before the Al-mighty, I will be held answerable to many questions. But what will I say when G!d asks — and he is certain to ask — ‘Shimshon, did you see my Alps?’

“Hirsch, I think, is pointing us to a radical, though not so new, theology — a God who doesn’t just want us to follow the rules, but one who wants, maybe needs, us to drink deeply from the wells of possibility, beauty, wonder and potential good that make up our world.”

This story was one I knew but the reminder was so important at this time — let’s all ask, “What are the good things that we haven’t done?” So, this is what I re-learned and now a very small but important thing I learned from this article: did you notice an interesting spelling? Many of us write “G-d” with the dash (the explanation for another time), but Rabbi Lappe instead put this in the middle: “!” — an exclamation point! A mistake or a message? I’m going with message and I may take this up myself!

Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center of Dallas

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