Friday, March 27, 2009

That Sometimes Grips Me

The mishnah in Avot says "kol ma'asecha yehiyu lesheim shamayim" - "all your actions should be for the sake of Heaven. Chayim Dovid, the wonderful singer, has a song called Le'Ma'an Shemo. In the liner notes he explains that a chaver of his told him that reciting and focusing on those words can lift you out of a funk (he was in one and asking the friend for an eitzah). One year in Shiriya a class did that song - outstanding.

Today in class we were learning about Korach (OK, I admit it, I was teaching - but I like to think of it more as a group experience). Another mishnah in Avot says of any argument which is lesheim shmayim that sofah lehitkayeim. We discussed what that means. Does it mean that good will come from it? Does it mean that it will be remembered?

The mishnah goes on to say that if it's not lesheim shamayim then - ein sofah lehitkayeim. What does that mean. Students raised the question that the argument of Korach, which is presented as the paradigm of an insincere argument IS remembered. I am writing of it now, we were (ironically) debating about in class today.

Sarah B of tenth grade (there's a Sarah B in 9th grade Chumash too) said that from inside, for the perpetrator of the insincere assault no good will come. But that doesn't mean that looking from the outside in you can't or shouldn't learn from the episode.

Then we got to the second half of the mishnah, which says that Hillel and Shamai are the best example of an argument that's lesheim Shamayim. On the other hand the machloket of Korach vechol adato are the example of an argument that is not for the sake of Heaven.

The question is, why is it asymmetrical? Why doesn't the mishnah state that the argument was between Korach and Moshe. Many answers have been offered. Amy said something that I'd never thought of.

To Korach and his men, Moshe's side didn't exist! It was just his fight, there was no other side. This is so common. I see it all the time. Kids may argue for points, but they are not interested in what you have to say - they just want to score the points. And so often for adults it's all about one side, not even acknowledging that there is another viewpoint.

That was some of my teaching day.


Rav Zevin's vort on Vayikra comes to mind as Shabbos approaches; the pasuk speaks of a person sacrificing from himself. The key is to offer of ourselves to G-d. In the end we stand to gain.

The following piece is by Hillel Goldberg. I came across it while sorting through old papers. I think it was originally in the Jewish Observer. I am surprised that it doesn't seem to already exist on the web (except in a post of mine from August '05), and hope that my posting it is helpful.
l
I was taken by this essay on several levels. What are your thoughts?
j
If Only
By Hillel Goldberg
~
"I was dreaming...If only I had an opportunity to think,
really just sit and think
without the press of obligation;
If only I had the ability to put out of my mind, really empty it,
of financial and business concerns;
If only I could spend some time with my family on a regular basis;
If only I could forget, even temporarily,
the teacher, the competitor, or detractor
who causes my grief;
If only I could escape the insistent ringing of the telephone,
not just when I'm out,
or when I think it's safe or necessary
to turn on my answering machine, but periodically;
If only I could figure out who I really am,
what makes a difference to me--
could steadily reevaluate life's direction without being flaky;
If only I could sense something of the beauty of this world,
not just occasionally on a vacation or ski trip,
but on a regular basis without feeling guilty
for stealing the time or alternatively,
feeling guilty for not having the discipline
for doing what I am supposed to do;
If only I could look out at the world
and feel completely at harmony with it;
If only I could add a dimension to my existence,
my increasing my ability to sing or dance or listen or laugh;
If only I could shake the depression or self - doubt
that sometimes grips me;
If only I could feel at one with people,
unconcerned about whether I was better
or more successful or respected than they,
or whether they were better or more successful or respected than I.
If only I could locate the design, the purpose
to this crazy world of ours, with its wars and jealousies,
and sicknesses and other sufferings;
If only I could get things into perspective, know what is important,
worth bothering about, what is unimportant,
not worth trifling with;
If only I could unravel the meaning within life's mysteries,
could know how they reigned within a larger mystery.
j
If only?
I need not dream.
All my wishes are available.
Shabbos."
Good Shabbos dear world
If only it will transform
Please G-d, please G-d, please

4 Comments:

Blogger uriyo said...

Good idea, Amy!

March 29, 2009 at 7:40 AM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Hope you are well Uri. Always good to have you here.

It's funny because after class I posed the question to a colleague (who was not familiar with the mishnah or the question, and thus not biased to give the popular answer which is that one indication that they were not lesheim shamayim was that they were arguing amoungst themselves - or simply put, that they each had different agendas of their own) and he came up with the same idea as amy g. - so i heard it new twice in the same day.

The last time we read this parsha I was at a Shabbos table in a wealthy community and someone was there raising money for his college/yeshiva in Israel. He said the vort about them fighting amoungst themselves. When he was done I cited the first part of the mishnah, which says "Kol machloket..." He said I was wrong, that the mishna only said the part he mentioned, only said the part he paraphrased about Hillel and Shamai, etc...

He was forceful that I was wrong and that I was thinking of the mishnah that said, "Kol knesiah shehi lesheim shamayim..." I said that they were both there. He said no, and his wife chimed in saying he was right and I was wrong (perhaps having her own agenda).

We got a siddur and I showed the rabbi the black on white line that he said didn't exist, which said "Kol machloket shehi..." Then he showed me that the other one was there about a knesiah, and his wife chimed in and said "so you're both right!"

Then I said that I'd thought he'd said that it only said the phrase in that one mishnah and was adamant that it was not in the one about machloket Then we ate desert, which included the option of humble pie.

I think Monty Python were onto something - that certain arguments are not exactly arguments - they're just yes vs. no. A real argument, or better - a sophisticated discussion - is an exchange of ideas, with a higher purpose in mind.

March 29, 2009 at 8:34 AM  
Blogger kishke said...

Don't see how Shabbos helps with these:

If only I could shake the depression or self - doubt
that sometimes grips me;
If only I could feel at one with people,
unconcerned about whether I was better
or more successful or respected than they,
or whether they were better or more successful or respected than I.
If only I could locate the design, the purpose
to this crazy world of ours, with its wars and jealousies,
and sicknesses and other sufferings;

March 29, 2009 at 12:48 PM  
Blogger kishke said...

I think "sofo lihiskayeim" means it will or does produce a positive good.

March 29, 2009 at 12:50 PM  

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