Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Sundry Thoughts Continued

I Am Blogger

I have decided to blog.  I never know what to write or what others or myself will gain (or G-d forbid lose from my writing.  I have been thanked and critiqued for things I've written here (over 8 years).  And yet.

I like writing.  Sometimes I like writing here.  So here goes.


VaYechi and Me

This week (it was the week of VaYechi and I often think of an idea popularized by the last Lubavitch Rebbe, that every parsha somehow reflects the week on a macro and micro scale). I spoke with two dear and holy friends in Israel. With one of them the topic of hashgacha pratis came up.  My friend cited the Ohr HaChaim's idea that the brothers wanted to blame all that did to Yosef on divine providence.  The language they use when they throw him in the pit reveals this as they say that they wish for their hands to be free of what happens.  The thing is that Yosef, in the end says to them that it was all from G-d.  But before he says that in his grand revelation he works hard to help them take responsibility and own what they had done. Only then does he add in the component of hashgachah.  We need to be careful to believe in hashgacha while also not using it as a cop out defense of our actions.

Someone told me that Yosef holds the record for times we're told in the Torah that a character cried: seven. I remember hearing Rabbi Soloveichik give a Chumash shiur circa 1980. He spoke movingly about Yosef's crying and I thought that he was citing a Midrash or embellishing in his own homiletic way.  No.  He was citing straight from pesukim. It is quite touching how much Yosef cries out of love for his brothers.

I was touched by another pasuk during leining this morning. Yaakov says upon seeing Yosef's sons something to the effect of, "I never thought I'd live to see you again and now I see you and your children!"  A father's greatest joy is his children and grandchildren.


Last Week In School

Someone who reads what I write recently told me at a Shabbos meal that I should never write about my students even not by name, even if it's very positive. What do you think about that?

One of my students in Public Speaking asked me what s/he should speak about.  Being that s/he is one of the  most joyful people I've ever met I suggested speaking about the importance of being happy.  I recommended googling Dennis Prager's thoughts on happiness as a moral obligation.  The student gave a great speech about how we owe it to others even more than to ourselves to be happy. It was a wonderful example of how picking topic that fits you well is a major component of delivering a great speech.


Taking Things Seriously

This is a book any of us could put together.  But we probably won't . Part of the brilliance of this billiant book by Joshua Glenn and Carol Hayes is that they did it.  They put together 75 entries from people writing about a pictures object and the story of what it means to them in their life.

One picture features a needlepoint of flowers and the usual, expected design with the word THOUGHTS in the middle. Carol Hayes writes about how she never noticed this in her aunt's house until she did. The aunt noticed her noticing it and gave it to her.

"My aunt never explained what she meant by THOUGHTS," the author writes.  She hung it in her house, but it haunted her.  So she took it down. 

Reminds me of a needlepoint with the words "LeChaim - To Life" written in the middle of the tapestry.  My mother saw it on my pediatrician's desk. She complimented it and he asked her if she wanted it.  She said sure. She asked him where he got it and he said nonchalantly, "I saved a kid's life so his mother made it for me." It hangs over the step's leading to my childhood home's basement still.


Remembering Nechama Part II (Click Here For Part I)

A fellow blogger recently posted - in part - about being in Nechama Leibowitz' class. Nechama lived 91 and a half years and taught for most of those years with unusual passion, energy, creativity  wisdom, skill, and - I think it's apt to say - love. One of the things my co-blogger remembered is one of the many things that struck me about Nechama too.  Like this educator, after seeing her do it I was inspired to use this technique of Nechama.  She would ask a question and then rather than calling someone to answer it she would have everyone write down their answer.  Then she would jump (using any form of the word walk would be a disservice to what this womanan did) around the room.  She'd look at each person's paper and declare what she thought of their answer, with enthusiastic responses including "Nachon!" "Lo Nachon" and "Norah!" I had her as a teacher in 87-88 and was awed by this powerhouse of an octogenarian.  My colleague/fellow blogger had her about 10 years later, her last year of teaching and of life in this world and apparently she hadn't lost her step.


Leave the Judging to G-d

I've noticed that The Rabbis never say "Don't Judge" as a complete sentence. The closest they come is saying, "Don't judge your friend till you're in his place," which is a brilliant way of saying that we should never fully judge another because we are never completely in their place. Generally they warn about judging carefully: "Don't judge alone, for only one can just as one and that is The One," "Judge every person favorably," "Be patient in judgement." And more.

They acknowledge that it is human to judge. And yet it's really G-d's job, not ours. It could be that one of the issues, besides the social ugliness of it, of loshon harah, is that we are making ourselves into a singular. Courts are called by a name of G-d because they are emissaries who fulfill a divine role on earth.

We can't help but judge to some degree, and it is unlikely to be true when people say unequivocally, "I'm not judging you." Actually, you probably are, and to some extent you should be. Imagine the trouble we'd be in if we never used our judgement and the pain we'd have saved ourselves if we used better judgement or simply trusted our judgement in the first place.

Chovot HaLevavot says, "Chabdeihu VeChashdeihu," which I like to translate as, "Respect and Suspect."We need to judge, but carefully and sparingly and in the most respectful way possible. And remember that in the end there is only one Dayan Emet - True Judge.


Blogger Miss Trudy said...

I don't see why you should now write about your students, though I would back about writing their names down or giving specifics that might identify them to others and cause embarrassment. But they are part of your daily life and work. I loved the tribute to Nechama. I think I might try that strategy with my students sometimes.

January 4, 2013 at 2:24 AM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Thanks - your comments are always meaningful to me. Yeah, Nechama was amazing - one of those teacher's that everyone thought was special, their teacher, just for them. No one was on the periphery of her class, everyone remember's her in a strong, positive, way. She shared of her self
and got others to be engaged in thinking in ways they hadn't before.

January 7, 2013 at 6:33 AM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...


Above is the book - meant to link to link to it in post.

And this is a link to a quiz. Take it if you like and let me know how you score if you like and I'll tell you my experience with the quiz:


The things you said make sense. Typifying the people being served as in one category is not necessarily so relevant or helpful.

January 7, 2013 at 6:32 PM  

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