Shabbat Talmud Study: Should We Make Ourselves Smaller to Give Others the Space to Be


Contraction. Self-contraction.  Is that a good idea?
In Multipliers, Liz Wiseman devotes an entire chapter to this essential quality of great leaders.  They “create space.” They “release others by restraining themselves.”
How should we think about this notion of intentional self-restraint for the purpose of unleashing other people’s voices, contributions, potential?
This question has implications for any work environment, but also home.  Do we make ourselves smaller so that our spouse shines?  Do we not give voice to our concerns so that our children can do their thing in peace and with our support even if we really wish they would do what we want them to do?  This question also has implications for any community of meaning, our shul, your child’s school, your alma mater.  What happens when any of these institutions makes a decision  that you deeply disagree with?  Do you contract your concern? Do you go along to get along?
How should we think about contraction?  There is a profoundly Jewish angle to all of this–a Kabbalistic and Rabbinic notion called tzimtzum, which means God’s contraction.  God, who fills the universe, has to contract Godself to make life possible for everyone else.   We will encounter a sparkling essay by Rabbi Shai Held on how the Kabbalists and the Rabbis have very different understandings of God’s contraction.  Their creative tension, on a seemingly technical theological point, connects directly to what keeps us up at night.
See you tomorrow at 8:30.
Shabbat shalom,
Wes

Shabbat Talmud Study: Becoming a Multiplier–Can You Learn to Ask Better Questions?


If you want to become a better and more effective human being at home, at work, and in your various communities of meaning, please consider reading Multipliers by Liz Wiseman. It is gold. Tomorrow morning we begin a several-part series on this very important book.

Wiseman and her team interview 150 leaders, and the people they lead, in America, Europe, Africa and Asia. On the basis of this learning, she offers two typologies: the Diminisher and the Multiplier. The Diminisher sucks all the energy out of the room; demoralizes their team; makes people half as productive as they could be if properly inspired. By contrast, the Multiplier brings out the best in everybody, creating positive energy, high morale, high motivation. The Multiplier makes everyone smarter, twice as productive as they might otherwise be.

Her central thesis is that we can all become a Multiplier. Tomorrow morning we are going to encounter one of the most important ways to accomplish this: asking better questions.

A Diminisher thinks no one else can figure it out but him or her, so the Diminisher tells. A Multiplier knows that others can figure it out without him or her, so the Diminisher asks or invites or poses challenges for the group. The Diminisher micromanages. Do what I tell you. The Multiplier invites a conversation about a juicy challenge and is genuinely interested in other peoples’ thoughts.

What makes a question a question that will open up? Open up conversation. Open up possibilities. Open up energy? Open up thinking that leads to solutions?

We are going to encounter four great Jewish texts on questions (not the 4 Questions from the Seder). Some land. Others do not land. Hopefully we can learn from our tradition how to ask questions that will open up all kinds of positive energy in this new year.

Can we retool ourselves to ask better questions?

See you tomorrow morning at 8:30.

Shabbat Shalom,
Wes

Shabbat Talmud Study: The End of King David’s Life, Two Very Different Reads


About everyone of us, at the end of our lives, two things will be true.

We will be in the middle of our story. There will be unfinished work we wanted to do, or we wanted to see our children, grandchildren or great grandchildren do.

There will be layers of complexity, blessings for which we are so grateful, and challenges and unanswered prayers that walk with us until our last breath.

If that is true for each of us, it is even more true for the epic life of King David. Tomorrow morning, our last Talmud class for 2018, we will encounter two different reads of King David’s end, the biblical account (which furnishes two Haftarot, including the Haftarah for tomorrow morning) and that of the great writer of historical fiction Geraldine Brooks in her biography of King David entitled The Secret Chord.

What do we learn from the end of King David’s life, through these two lenses, that teaches us how we should live our life now?

Begin with the end in mind. If we have a sense of the kind of end we want, what do we do today? How shall we live now?

See you tomorrow morning at 8:30.

Shabbat shalom,
Wes

Shabbat Talmud Study: How We Teach, for Good and for Bad, Without Intending to Teach, Just by Living


In the annals of the human story, it is hard to imagine a more arrogant person than Joseph. Who dreams that their siblings will bow down to him? Who dreams that their sibling and parents will bow down to him? Joseph.

But here is the sobering thing. Joseph became who Joseph became because of how his father Jacob raised him. Jacob created an arrogant monster. If you had asked Jacob, when Joseph was born, do you want to create the most arrogant person in the history of the world, Jacob would probably say no. But the choices Jacob made, how he raised Joseph, promoted the arrogant man that Joseph became.

We do our best teaching when we are not intending to teach at all.

We do our best teaching by how we live.

Tomorrow morning we will see the power of this truth for good and for bad.

Shabbat shalom,
Wes

Shabbat Talmud Study: President George H.W. Bush and Joseph in Egypt–What is the Single Most Essential Quality of a Great Leader of a Nation?


Tomorrow morning we are going to look at an underexplored part of the Joseph story: How he feeds the Egyptian people during the period of severe famine. Thankfully we have not experienced famine and so do not really get its destructive and horrible power. We are going to read some excerpts from Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick about the famine in North Korea. Famine kills. And it kills slowly, painfully, cruelly.

Joseph saved the Egyptian people from this slow, painful famine-induced death, for which they are grateful and for which they thank him.

And yet.

As Rabbi Shai Held observes, the Torah suggests a critique of Joseph’s life-saving policies. Indeed, what Joseph will do to the Egyptians-make them slaves unto Pharaoh in Egypt, avadim l’pharoh-the Egyptians will do to Joseph’s descendants.

This analysis of Joseph will yield a simple metric by which we can judge all of our leaders and which can explain why President Bush, though super successful in international relations (end of Apartheid on his watch, fall of the Soviet Union on his watch, creation of a truly international coalition to get Iraq out of Kuwait, the successful prosecution of the war, restraint in not going to Bagdad), was denied a second term.

Shabbat shalom and Happy Hanukkah,
Wes

Shabbat Talmud Study: A Simple Move That Will Change the Tone of Your Life and of Our Time


Have you received an angry email that gave you indigestion?
Have you sent such an angry email to somebody else?

Is there somebody at your Thanksgiving table that you dread talking to because you see the world so differently, and if you go there, your blood pressure will rise, and if you don’t go there, there is an elephant in the room?

Last week I read something from a colleague that is simple, hidden in plain sight. It is deeply rooted in Jewish texts and values, from Pirkei Avot, to the Babylonian Talmud, to our portion this week (Parshat Vayishlach). It is wise. It is helpful. It is already making a difference for me. You can do it too. After you start doing it, you may wonder, as I have, why did I not do this before? On Shabbat we will explore a simple move that can change the tone of your life and of our time.

Happy Thanksgiving, Shabbat shalom,
and see you on Shabbat at 8:30.

Wes

Shabbat Talmud Study: What is Your Daily Offering?


In response to Pittsburgh, now in response to Thousand Oaks, and in response to this fraught moment in which we find ourselves, we have been thinking about how we fulfill the teaching of Dr. King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” How do we become a source of light and love?

Last week we encountered the idea, in Stephen Covey’s classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, of attending your own funeral. You will hear a family member, a friend, a business colleague, and member of your faith or service community speak about you. What would you want them to say? Are you now living a life that would get them to say it? If not, what tweaks might you make?

In tomorrow’s class, we are going to continue the conversation by adding an important value concept from the Torah: the daily offering. We read about the daily offering yesterday and today, as it is the focal point of the Rosh Hodesh Torah reading.

Tomorrow morning we are going to talk about not the big moments, ShowUpForShabbat where we had 1,200 people, but the daily, private, small moments. What granular stuff can you do? You will leave tomorrow morning with three questions that go to your daily offering, three things to think about as you try to become a source of light and love.

See you tomorrow at 8:30!

Shabbat shalom,
Wes

Shabbat Talmud Study: How Can We Be Better After Pittsburgh?–A Spiritual Response to the Massacre at Tree of Life


Most of the conversations after Pittsburgh have been hard, sad, and necessary. How much security should there be? Can the Holocaust happen here? Is America going to be like Europe for Jews? Then there is the politics. The violence and murder, coming in a deeply divided red or blue society, so close to the pivotal mid-term elections, has our nation, our community, and individual souls, at a boiling point.

Tomorrow morning I want to ask a different question and frame a different conversation. I want us to move from a negative energy to a positive energy conversation. How can we be better after Pittsburgh? What would a sane, sustainable, healthy spiritual response to the Tree of Life massacre look like? How can your life be better, deeper, more impactful after, and because of, Pittsburgh?

See you tomorrow at 8:30.

Shabbat Shalom,
Wes

Shabbat Talmud Study: A Moral Issue Where There is a Right and Wrong Answer


Last Shabbat we explored the question of how certain should we feel about the rightness of our convictions? Should we be cocksure that we are right? Or should we be humble and open to the possibility of nuance, texture, ambiguity, important things we might not understand?

We explored the prophetic voice: I am right. I am truth. I have truth. I speak for God. You, who disagree with me, are wrong.

And the rabbinic voice: humility and an openness to a multiplicity of truths.

In general, the rabbinic voice is more helpful and true. Prophets’ very certainty and arrogance turn people off, then and now.

But life is so very interesting. We are in that very rare zone where a prophetic voice is the right voice.

Tomorrow morning, we will explore an urgent moral issue in the upcoming election on November 6 where there is a right vote and a wrong vote. There is a vote which is consistent with Jewish values, and there is a vote that is a wrenching violation of Jewish values.

Life and human dignity are at stake. You have a hand in preserving life and promoting human dignity based on how you vote on November 6.

Aliza and I will co-teach these sources. See you tomorrow morning at 8:30.

Shabbat shalom,
Wes

Shabbat Talmud Study: What Does Moral Courage Look Like Today?


It is much easier to identify moral courage in a historical piece than in today’s headlines. Moral courage is much cleaner and clearer when you are talking about 1939 than when you are talking about 2018. Consider two pieces that made the news this week.

In this piece, Rabbi David Wolpe tells the story of a Japanese man named Chiune Sugihara who worked in the Japanese consulate in Lithuania in 1939. He knew that Jews in German-occupied Poland were desperate and could not get out. No country would take them. The Japanese government ordered him: do not give visas to Jews. He violated the explicit order of his own government and wrote out 6,000 visas. Rabbi Wolpe writes: “Day and night he wrote visas. He issued as many visas in a day as would normally be issued in a month….It has been estimated that over 40,000 people are alive today because of this one man.” Most of us would look at the story of Chiune Sugihara and conclude that he is a moral hero.

How then shall we understand the story reported in this link?

What does moral courage look like today? If we admire Chiune Sugihara saying yes
to desperate people, in violation of his government’s orders, how ought we to see
desperate people today, and our fellow citizens who have the very hard job of doing
border control and law enforcement?

On Shabbat we are going to look at a great set of texts assembled and taught by Yehuda Kurtzer at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem called “Moral Courage in Jewish Tradition.” We will see what the prophets had to say about moral courage; the rabbinic critique of the prophetic voice; and a bridge position which will give us language and categories as we think about our complicated world and how to be moral actors in it.

History is hard. Headlines make finding our moral voice even harder.

Shabbat shalom,
Wes