Friday, April 9, 2010

Teshuvah - Jewish GPS


  • There can never be a simple answer to complex problems.
  • If you have only one answer, you can only understand a question in one way.

David Brooks' column today, The Humble Hound is about leadership.  It is also about a very Jewish model of living - and particularly, about teshuvah.
[the 'humble hound' leader] believes we only progress through a series of regulated errors. Every move is a partial failure, to be corrected by the next one. Even walking involves shifting your weight off-balance and then compensating with the next step.
[The leader] knows the world is too complex and irregular to be known, so life is about navigating uncertainty. She understands she is too quick to grasp at pseudo-objective models and confident projections that give the illusion of control.
 There is a wonderful video called "Making the Most of Making Mistakes" that illustrates the same idea for upper elementary students.  I would urge you to try to locate it and use it with your students.  There is a wonderful segment in which the narrator describes the flight path a plane takes on a long trip - it is never exactly aimed toward the target, but continuously self-corrects in order to arrive at the correct destination.

  • This is a powerful and clear explanation of teshuvah.
  • Life is complex.
  • Judaism understands that no one is perfect.
  • Jewish tradition provides a valuable path for self-regulation and correction.
  • Jewish values can be a GPS that constantly re-calculates your direction based on the relationship between where you are and where you want to be.

I suggest you file this with your resources

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


There is a well-known narrative in this parasha that describes the death of two of Aharon's sons - Nadav and Avihu.  According to the text (chapter 10, verses 1-4) the following happened (translation according to Everett Fox):
Now Aharon's sons, Nadav and Avihu, took each-one his pan, and, placing fire in them, put smoking-incense on it.   And brought-near, before the presence of Adonai, outside fire, such as He had not commanded them.  And fire went out from the presence of Adonai and consumed them, so that they died, before the presence of Adonai.  Moshe said to Aharon:  It is what Adonai spoke about, saying:  Through those permitted near to me I will be proven holy.  Before all the people I will be accorded honor!
Aharon was silent.
What do commentaries and commentators say about this event?
Role Models for Leadership discusses some classical understandings of this strange event, along with a modern message.
Alcoholism and the Nation Priests builds on verse 9, in which Aharon is instructed not to drink before entering the Tabernacle.  Is this the real reason his sons were killed?

Some questions to consider:

  • Is it always possible to find meaning in events?
  • Do we always remember things accurately?
  • How does our view of the world affect the way we tell our story?
Here are some interesting articles about the way we understand history.  You may want to read them and think about the possible relationship to the way in which we understand Torah.

  • A Closer Reading of Roman Vishniac appeared in the NY Times, and suggests that the way in which this famous photographer portrayed pre-Shoah Jewish life in Eastern Europe may not be as complete as we might have thought.
  • Thine is the Kingdom may seem a strange choice for an article in a blog about Jewish education and thinking.  I suggest you read it, however, because it seems to me to address the same fundamental issue that James Kugel struggles with in his book How to Read the Bible - is it possible to reconcile theological understanding of religious text with scientific and historical reality (whatever that is in the shifting sands of knowledge!)?  And, more important, does it matter?
  • Finally, please read China's Ancient Jewish Enclave.  Though not exactly parallel to the others, it does ask the reader to consider how a group understands its history and connection to community. It also made me wonder what the "tipping point" is between 'being Jewish' and 'being of Jewish descent'.