Sunday, November 21, 2004

What's The Damage?

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This blog is new but I have been writing, with G-d's help, for some time. I've been sending out an email every week for years. What follows immediately is what I sent out this week.
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This week’s “trivia” question is: what is the name by which the inspiration for this week’s thoughts, Rabbi Yaakov Kranz (1741-1804), is more famously known?


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Lavan informs Yaakov of a divinely inspired epiphany; Lavan was blessed by G-d for Yaakov’s sake. Lavan asks Yaakov what reward he desires. Yaakov replies, “You know how I have served you and how your cattle was with me, for the little which you had before I came is now increased to a multitude. And G-d has blessed you since my coming - and now when will I provide for my own house also.”

Yaakov makes a point of restating how the cattle prospered under his watch. Rabbi Kranz explains that Yaakov was responding to Lavan’s subtext. Lavan insinuates that his material blessings were heavenly reward for Yaakov’s piety. Yaakov wants it on record that his hard work brought results. He wants Lavan to value his effort before he decides what to pay him. Rather than deserving a stipend for being the resident Jew, Yaakov was deserving of recompense for a great deal of labor.

This thought has many ramifications. The Hebrew expression for appreciation is “hakarat hatov.” When translated carefully these words mean “seeing the good.” Hakarat hatov is often understood as perfunctory expressions of thanks. But it is meant to be a true recognition of effort.

Lavan is the first boss that we read of in the Torah. He is the first supervisor and the first bureaucrat. When Yaakov asks to marry his young daughter Lavan sets down the line that many would borrow time and time again: “I’d love to help you, but my hands are tied. It’s not my fault, it’s company policy, simply not how things are done around here; there’s nothing I can do.”

Lavan minimized Yaakov’s effort by choosing not to see it. As Stanley Fishman says “perception is nine tenths of the flaw.” Lavan chose to perceive Yaakov as a nice yeshiva boy who brought him good fortune, blinding himself to Yaakov’s years of skilled shepherding. It was time for Yaakov to go. There was little he could do but state the truth.

In life we all meet situations where others are subjected to our judgment. While today it is in vogue to say that we should never judge, it is a basic human truth that we always judge. I dare anyone to find a statement of Chazal where they say not to judge. They acknowledge that we judge and ask us to do it as patiently and empathetically as possible.

When we judge we need to see the positive even if in the end it is outweighed by negative. Rabbi Fischel Schachter is a renowned lecturer who spends his days teaching young children. A rule he lives by is to never say a negative without surrounding it by two positives.

I have several dear friends who I will hint to. One is a supervisor in the field of computers. He once told me that if a supervisor needs to let someone go and it comes as a surprise to the employee, the supervisor hasn’t been communicating properly. I could tell from his words that he stays in touch, giving positive and negative feedback regularly to those under him. Another friend works as a school administrator and makes it a point to walk through every classroom daily – not to scare people but to see what needs to be seen, good and bad. The same man thanks his teachers before vacations and lets them know that their efforts don’t go unnoticed.

On the other hand another friend of mine once told me with what looked like pride that he makes his workers cry. He doesn’t like my theory of the need to see the good and let your workers know you see it. He feels that in some situations that may be appropriate, but not in the real cruel world.

Back to the parsha – may we be blessed to be better than Lavan. May our whiteness be real and not phony professional charm. May we be blessed to clearly see the efforts of others that bring us blessings and to acknowledge the good that we see.

Shabbat Shalom,
And thank you for reading,

Rabbi Neil Fleischmann

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And here's a hot off the press poem - new to a blog , but not new to me as I've been writing poems for some time.
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Saturday Night: Eleven Forty-Five PM

Self absorbed Vin Scelsa keeps talking
I tread the net and stop at Mimaamakim
"Idiot’s Delight" almost done I’ll need
distraction other than WFUV, because
"Group Harmony Review" isn’t my thing
So I visit this old friend of a poetry site
While Elton says he hopes I don’t mind
And I write like a Billy Collins wannabe


Filled from contentment of Shabbos rest
I am disappointed my latest isn’t posted
And Alejandro Escovedo sings of hands
As I notice eight mortgage ads posted in
spaces that should have held my poetry
and Vin riffs of TV and a random FCC
as I prepare to post these unsaved words
my way of calling G-d out of my depths

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Thanks to Esther Kustanowitz who I don't know personally, but who has a blog through which I discovered how to do this. I recommend her blog; My Urban Kvetch. And I recommend specific articles that I really enjoyed; this week's from the Jewish Week, called the Midos Touch and her pre YK piece on Al Cheits for singles. Also, it was through her site that I discovered a quiz that tells you a prominent literary work that you resemble. According to this quiz I am Orlando.

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