Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
In an old business demonstration made popular by guru Stephen Covey (“7 Habits of Highly Effective People” Free Press, 1989) we can learn a valuable life lesson. In one version of the demonstration, a large fish bowl, about 2 cups of sand, and three medium sized rocks are required. The demonstration begins with the challenge to fit all the sand and all the rocks into the bowl. Suggestions lead to three possible solutions. First, start with the sand. Pour it all in. It fits well in the bottom of the bowl. But, it fills up the bowl too high and now the rocks won’t fit. Try again.
This time start with the rocks. Put them in carefully. They fit well. But, the sand can’t get around the rocks and most of it pours outside the edge of the bowl. One more try. This time begin with a little sand, then add a rock; put in more sand, then another rock; finally, finish with the rest of the sand and the last rock. Now it all fits.
The demonstration proves a point. The bowl represents the capacity we have to accomplish all our work and obligations. The sand represents our small responsibilities. They are less critical but they are part of the process. The rocks are our big responsibilities and they are keys to the successful completion of our mission. The demonstration quickly makes clear that we can’t focus only on the small jobs at the expense of the large ones, and vice-versa. It would be ideal if we could enlarge the bowl, but more often than not, capacity is a fixed quantity and we have to work within our limits. The solution is found in the way we attend to small tasks while not losing sight of the big picture, and minding the larger vision while not losing hold of what matters every day.
The demonstration is about much more than multi-tasking. It’s about being clear about what matters in our life. All of us would include family, work, friends, hobbies, personal time, faith and more. Covey and others suggest what we should define as large items and what we should call small ones. But, those are judgment calls. How to get it all done depends on how we choose fit it all in, but the answer rests with each of us, personally. In “God of Me: Imagining God throughout Your lifetime” (Jewish Lights Pub., 2011), we learn how to understand the difference as we aim to fit it all in. “When spouse/partners work long hours at the office, it isn’t only because they are happier at work among colleagues and friends who share their ambitions. It’s also because they are ambitious… New parents don’t work long hours to avoid children at home; they work long hours to provide for them” (p. 88-89). Over years, our priorities often change. What doesn’t change is the duty we have to attend to work and home, family and friends, etc.
Now imagine that the bowl, which is our capacity to meet all our responsibilities, can actually grow with us over time. As we gain life experience, we should find that we have increasing amounts of patience, empathy, compassion, skills, abilities, and resources. They make us better able to assume more responsibilities that often come with growing children and demanding work. They also make us better suited to choose what really matters most. There will always be much to do (lots of rocks and sand), but there can also be increasingly meaningful ways to enlarge our hearts and souls to embrace all that our life has become, for good or for ill, and, God willing, for blessing.
From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
This past week, we were in the mountains visiting dear friends. Everyday we planned to try new activities and see new sights. One day we agreed to “hike Ajax”, one of the most challenging hikes in town. We did a vertical climb of 3,267 feet. The top of Ajax is exactly 11,212 feet and the base of the mountain is 7,945 feet. From all appearances, we were prepared. We had backpacks, water, food, sunscreen, and enthusiasm. Thankfully, nothing ran out during the hike, not even our enthusiasm. But, there were rough patches along the way.
Rising 3,300 feet in elevation slowed us down as we took more time to catch our breath and re-oxygenate ourselves. Then, urging each other on, we put one foot in front of the other and continued. Younger hikers passed us by in both directions. Some carried only water and no food, and others ran past us on what seemed to be their morning jog. We waved to some as they hustled past us. To others we called out, “How much farther?” “Is it much longer to the top?” They were honest. “You’re about 2/3 of the way,” and “Just two more pushes and you’ll be there.” The six of us trudged on. When we needed rest, we waited for each other, and spots of shade up ahead became short goals and rest stops along the way.
At one turn, we saw a white patch on the side of the trail. We looked and wondered and then realized that even in mid-July, it was real snow. Lisa and I made our way off the trail to reach the large mound of snow left over from winter. It was dirty on top, but we dug in our hands and scooped up enough to throw a few snowballs at each other and our friends. We even took some of it and put it down our shirts and on our skin for a quick cool down.
The well-marked trail continued. Our eyes, however, were set on the gondola that rose higher into the mountains. The goal was to reach the gondola station at the top, and ride it down for free which would be our reward for all our hard work. However, the gondola and the wire it followed seemed to reach over the mountains going higher and farther away. How could it be? Will we ever make it? Closer to the top, a small jeep approached us on its way down. Two men in the jeep slowed to answer our questions, “How far are we from the top?” and “How much for the jeep?” But, as it approached, the driver slowed and said, “Hey, Rabbi Lyon!” I couldn’t believe it. Even at nearly 11,000 feet, tired, sunburned, and sore, I was reminded that none of us is ever far from who we are and what we do. It was satisfying to see a Beth Israel member, a friend, and one who could account for my presence on the mountain in case of my absence.
Finally, the summit was in sight. Our pace grew slower and slower. Our calves ached. The air was thinner. Young 20-somethings played Frisbee nearby on the mountainside. We stared in awe at their ability to run, breathe, and balance at the same time. Yet, we weren’t discouraged. Indeed, the lodge was in sight and so was the gondola station. We arrived. We sat down. We rested. We drank some juice and shared conversations with fellow hikers about survival, elevation, and our achievement. Pictures followed with views of the panoramic sights and vistas. It was literally and figuratively breathtaking. We didn’t delay on the mountainside. It was time for the free gondola ride down the mountain and on to lunch at 8,200 feet, practically sea-level for us.
Ultimately, we agreed that the hike was a benchmark for us. In difficult physical, emotional or spiritual times in the future, we can remember when we hiked Ajax, and push on to accomplish goals we need to reach, no matter what. As Shabbat nears, your own personal hikes, whatever they might be, require enormous personal resources, too. Some say that “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” and I believe it. There are gifts that God has implanted in us that aren’t revealed until we need them. We don’t have to look for them only on the mountains, but they are there, too. Because I’m never doing that hike again, I’m grateful that we can find the gifts we need much closer to home. They are found in the presence of our family and friends and in our hearts, for sustenance, courage, blessings and peace.
From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Phineas or Pinchas is the name of this week’s Torah portion. You might recognize it as the Hebrew name of your father, grandfather or great-grandfather. I recall long ago men who went by the name, Pinky. I used to think that Pinky was an unusual name until I became familiar with his namesake in Torah.
Pinchas is a Biblical personality who was known for his remarkable passion to serve God. In Numbers 25, we learn how Pinchas drove a spear through the bellies of an Israelite man and a Midianite woman who violated God’s covenant. For his zealotry, Pinchas was granted God’s “pact of friendship” or “Brit Shalom”. In addition, Pinchas and his descendants enjoyed a pact of priesthood for all time.
In general, zealotry in Judaism is not prized. As biblical events often do, this one inspires us to value Pinchas’ role in securing the faithfulness of the Israelite people against false gods and idol worship. But, zealotry is reserved for biblical stories and extraordinary circumstances. How do we know? The word that describes Pinchas’ passion here is the same word used to describe God’s passion in Exodus 20. In the Ten Commandments, God is called “an impassioned God (a jealous God)”, “El kanah”. Here Pinchas “took impassioned action for God”, “Kinei l’Eiloha’v”. K-N-H is the Hebrew root that means impassioned. Pinchas acted on a level we can only find in the Bible. Furthermore, it is passion that should only be found in the Bible.
Today, we observe zealotry in the world in the hands of fanatics. Such zealotry is singular in its purpose. It is frightfully dangerous. It preserves one people and annihilates another. Pinchas was motivated in a singular way to destroy forever the relationship between Israel and Baal-Peor, the foreign god. His reward was priesthood for all time. Does it sound familiar, like a reward that might motivate passionate people to act passionately (fanatically)? Every religion has them: Christian crusaders, Islamic jihaadists, etc. In our day, we aim not to live with a singular purpose that places value on some but not on others. These are not biblical times.
Yet, Pinchas is not irrelevant. He still teaches us a lesson about our efforts to preserve the Jewish people. Look around. In every community, by an extraordinary majority, only Jews support Jews. I am not discounting the role of CUFI, for those who know what it is, but by and large, the passion of our past still lives today in the ways we maintain our Jewish institutions and way of life. Who else but Jewish families support Seven Acres Home for the Jewish Aged? Who else but Jewish families make annual pledges to Houston Jewish Federation to sustain the well-being of Judaism here, nationally and overseas? Who else but Jewish families maintain our magnificent synagogues and preserve the legacy of a congregation like Beth Israel, organized in 1854? Who else but Jewish parents and those who are raising Jewish children insist on a quality Jewish education through real study and participation? Tell me all of this doesn’t take passion. It does take passion. We should all be moved by our duty to serve our Jewish community.
Pinchas was biblically passionate. How else was he going to make a point in Torah? You and I can just be passionate. It would do us well. As Shabbat comes, consider the role that you can play and the contributions you can make. Together, let’s be sure that in our world of many peoples and ideas, there will be a place for Jews and Judaism, and a “Brit Shalom” for all time.
From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.
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