Monday, February 22, 2010

More from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and a Great Children's Riddle

More from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and a Great Children’s Riddle

I am still reading To Heal a Fractured World by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. As my daughter Talie tells me, the sign of a great book is when it is difficult not to underline and reread every line. True! I find this to be especially the case in this book. I am only reading a few pages at a time and then digesting what they have taught me before continuing. This, I think, is the way this book is best read. So, this past Shabbat (on which of course, I am not underlining, which is definitely a benefit in many ways – however, I did go back and add the appropriate indicator of emphasis on Sunday) I was reminded by Rebbe Sacks of an old children’s riddle. He uses it to remind us of the nature of G-d. That works. I want to take some poetic license here and use it to make a point about human rights and our responsibility to the world in which we all live. Here goes!

There are three people who have worked together to accomplish a task and in the course of the day they have earned seventeen gold coins. Because of the fact that they have each made different contributions to the accomplishment of the task, they decide to divide the coins proportionally, according to the contribution each has made. They decide as follows: The first person should receive ½ of the total payment; the second person should receive 1/3 of the total payment; and the third person should receive 1/9 of the total payment. They try and try and cannot come up with an equitable way to divide the coins. What should they do? They come to you for the solution.

Think about this. What can you do as they have come to you for the solution? What can you offer them? What advice and WORDS will you offer them? Is there something else you should be giving them in their attempt to solve their problem? As the puzzle or riddle continues, the solution is suggested as follows:

You should add one gold coin to the collection, making a total of eighteen gold coins. NOW each person can take their appropriate pay – The first person received nine gold coins; the second gets six gold coins; and the last person receives two gold coins. Guess how many are left! YOU get YOUR COIN back!

What is the lesson here? In the riddle, you have not only given advice and words, but you have given from your resources as well. In the end, the three people have a solution, and you have NOT LOST A THING! How wonderful if we could see community service and helping others in the same way. Sure, we give time, money and resources to help others in our world. But in so doing, we are creating solutions for others, while not losing anything of value in terms of who we are and what we have. Further, in creating and facilitating solutions, we are helping ourselves by creating a more sustainable and reasonable environment in which we can all live.

Thank you Rabbi Sacks for reminding me of this wonderful riddle and its solution! To be sure, it teaches an important lesson about G-d and what gives us. Further, it reminds us that we should follow the example G-d sets for us and be gracious, for in giving to others, we get so much in return without losing a thing!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sedarim and Their Meaning

I, as everyone else in our observant practicing community, grew up with our annual Pesah Sedarim. There was always something quite magical and wonderful about the pageantry and the preparations that went into these special meals. In fact, we know that this resonates with the larger Jewish community, including both those who are observant to any degree and those who are not. Population and demographic studies continually and consistently show that more than any other single practice; Jews will have some meal that bears some resemblance to a Seder to mark the holiday and observance of Pesah. This of course is so fitting – that we as a people observe collectively and differently the marker of the one event that made us a people and a nation, namely when G-d took the B’nai Yisrael out of the Land of Mitzrayim. How many of us have wonderful memories of our own recitation of the Four Questions, the taste of our favorite Charoset recipe, the singing of songs around the table, all of the food, family and so much else? The Seder itself, meaning order, was a script we followed as we recounted so much about who we are as a people, believers in G-d and a community. Growing up in the observant Jewish home into which I was born, preparations for this annual feast and celebration would take months. The very word Seder evokes memories of this entire process which may appear to the outsider as somewhat chaotic but definitely had its own order as we prepared for the order and script of the festival and its various components.

Now, as an adult, I have come to appreciate the observance of other Sedarim during the course of the year. Very dear friends of ours, Rabbi Joshua (z’l) and Esther Toledano and their family have introduced our family of Ashkenazic Jews to their Moroccan Sephardic customary Rosh HaShanah Seder. We now enjoy this celebration annually with our joint families. The idea of stopping to appreciate so many of G-d’s created things and to ponder their inner meanings seems like such a wonderful way to complement the Tefillot and other practices associated with this serious and full time of the year. As we begin our new year of human history and personal as well as communal growth and actions, what a meaningful way to remind ourselves of the ultimate system of interdependence of which we are all a part that brings land, the waters, all created things and beings, G-d and us together in an inextricably connected way. The notion that each tangible and physical thing we consume represents a higher ideal, theme, or aspiration is also meaningful in a most profound way, especially at this season of reflection and taking account of self.

Also in my adult years, we have added the Tu Bishvat Seder to our repertoire. As we sit in the midst of the winter months with snow on the ground as often as not, we sit and celebrate our trees and the land and water that facilitates their growth as they are so critically necessary to our well being. The fact that Judaism recognizes this is quite astounding and powerful. We celebrate what nourishes us and of course, The Creator of all parts of our system of interdependence of which we are part. This seder, with its colorful foods and cheerful tone, clearly reminds us of the cycle of life as we celebrate the budding of all things while bundling up (at least where we live) to protect ourselves from the cold.

The word appreciation just keeps coming back into my mind. We appreciate our people hood and our going out of Mitzrayim with the hand and direction of G-d. We celebrate this appreciation and remembrance through the Pesah Seder. We appreciate that all things are part of the world that we acknowledge and take account of on Rosh HaShanah. Once again, there is a scripted Seder to help us through this appreciation in an orderly manner. Of course, Tu Bishvat is also a wonderful time to celebrate and appreciate all that G-d has created for our use and for us to tend and nurture as well as be nurtured by it, as exemplified by our beautiful and bountiful trees. The notion that we use Sedarim, with their own scripts and orders, to celebrate and acknowledge, yes appreciate, the order of all that G-d created and put here just seems to make sense…. In fact, it is quite orderly, don’t you think?!