Friday, December 17, 2021

Just do good

In a somewhat bizarre incident, Yosef brings his two sons Menashe and Ephraim to his ailing father’s bedside for a final parting and for the two young grandchildren to get a blessing from their sage grandfather. Yaakov stuns Yosef when he places his right hand on the second brother Ephraim and his left hand on the firstborn son Menashe. This is met with resistance from Yosef, who not so gently reminds his elderly father that Menashe is the firstborn and thus deserving to have the right hand placed on him. (This is somewhat ironic considering that Yosef who was not the firstborn was considered the preferred son and now he is taking offense that his firstborn son was not receiving his due honor). What was it about Yaakov’s insistence that Ephraim is the recipient of the preferred bracha? Not only that, but Yaakov designated the gold standard of blessings should be “ May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menashe” -- why was it so important that Ephraim precedes Menashe ? The Nesivos Shalom writes based on a famous verse in Tehillim/Psalms: סור מרע ועשה טוב /Desist from Evil and Perform Good. This is the formula that King David taught us toward the path of character development and improvement. First and foremost, it is important to desist from wrongdoing and only then to engage in mitzvah or good deeds. The only problem with that approach is that a person can always be busy with desisting wrongdoing and never get to perform one mitzvah or good deed -- for who can actually say that I have no baggage left in the closet and now I am free to pursue mitzvahs and good deeds? One of the best ways to desist from wrongdoing is to just do a mitzvah or good deed. This is illustrated with the story of Menashe and Ephraim. In Parshas Mikeitz, it states the reason why Yosef named his two sons Menashe and Ephraim. His first son was named Menashe for as he put it “God has made me forget the toil”, in essence that is the value of desist from wrongdoing. His second son was named Ephraim for as he put it “G-d made me fruitful in the land of my affliction”. In essence, this is the value of Asei Tov/Doing a Mitzvah or good deed. That was the deeper message of Yaakov in his designation of his two grandsons. Although in an ideal world, it is important to first get away from wrongdoing it is imperative that one just perform a mitzvah or a good deed as activation energy. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, December 10, 2021

Seek to understand then be understood

“If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This is one of the fundamental teachings of Stephen Covey. It is also the fifth habit in his famous book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. If you’re like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely. So why does this happen? Because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say, the questions you are going to ask, etc. You filter everything you hear through your life experiences, your frame of reference. You check what you hear against your autobiography and see how it measures up. And consequently, you decide prematurely what the other person means before he/she finishes communicating. Covey teaches us the supremely important value of truly trying to understand an opposing person’s position before attempting to convince someone else of your own opinion. I have long believed the Seven Habits of Covey are aligned with the wisdom found in the Torah. For example, in the Megilas Esther, when Esther sees Mordechai dressed in sackcloth, it was shocking and painful to view a loved one in such a compromising way. The message Esther sent to Mordechai was לָדַעַת מַה־זֶּה וְעַל־מַה־זֶּה This is translated as to know what this was and this was. I have wondered why the repetitive expression was necessary for Esther to get her point across! I believe she was applying the concept of seeking to understand before being understood. When you see something unusual and bizarre before rushing to judgment, it may be worthwhile to legitimately explore the reason for this viewpoint or practice. Unfortunately, when this does not occur, the consequences can be nothing short of catastrophic. We don't have to go further than this week's Parsha to witness the relationship of Yosef and his brothers and the cost of not seeking to understand the others first. Indeed, so many people are estranged from parents, spouses, siblings, and other family members. It doesn’t have to be this way. It might be worth it to seek to understand before being understood. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Most Destructive Word in the English Language

I have always been intrigued by the “word of the year.” This last year of 2023, Merriam Webster designated “authentic” as the WOTY (word of ...