Monday, February 28, 2011

Cheshbon Hanefesh, an account of the soul

I took an IQ test once, well likely more than once, but as an adult and likely for the last time. I saw it advertised in a local paper as part of a research study and who doesn’t want to contribute to furthering science? Okay, I was grad student, predictably low on cash, and they were offering money for subjects.
At any rate taking an IQ test was a lengthy and somewhat boring affair. During one of the breaks I got up and made coffee, as we were seated in a break area. I did ask first. The interviewer said, “yes.” But she was looking at me at lot like a bug under glass. And I started to wonder what it was they were REALLY measuring. As in so many blind studies, researches often give misleading information to the subjects so as not to influence their behavior. Hmmmmm.

When I was finished I received a paper with information and a phone number. I could schedule an appointment and pick up my test results. Admittedly, I was curious. At my next meeting the doctor told me the ‘secret number’-which was satisfying. He also mentioned that the test was not valid. (Okay, I already mentioned that it was arduously long and arguable more than somewhat boring, did I not? Perhaps I should have also mentioned that arduously long and arguably boring tasks are not my strong suit.) He also mentioned that he thought I was an underachiever. My thought at first was, “Gee I could have saved us both a lot of time an effort!” But I held my tongue. Finally, I thought ‘okay I’ll bite’ and asked, “What makes you think so?”

It seem that it was my job, I was a high school teacher at the time, and my level of education, I had a Masters. Seems my numbers reflected I could have done better. My first thought was maybe this process was invalid on a number of levels! A reversal of logic and the question- “Is it possible I am too competent as a teacher?” - made him smirk, but I couldn’t help, but notice he didn’t answer. Education was another matter. When my daughter was about seven years old, I was invited to the Ph D program at my University. And while I would have liked to stay under different circumstances, mine were that I had a little girl at home who would never, ever. be little again. And I already had a full time job. I told my very understanding advisor that I just wanted to go home…

In retrospect, it occurs to me that what one person thinks is good for me cannot stand up to decisions I make for myself. How could this test know what it is I truly wanted in my life? Do I ever wish that I had finished that last program? Sure, but not at that expense. No one ever dies wishing they had spent more time away from their children, do they?

Similarly, it is a good idea to take our own spiritual inventory, (and maybe not just in the month of Elul.) And, like my helpful, friendly, if mislead, psychologist friend, it is also not such a good idea to take someone else’s. (If one is being honest, as well as human, there should be plenty to work with.) Consider your relationship to G-d. Consider your relationship to fellow humans.

What do you need? That’s right you. Are there mitzvots you want to undertake? Is there a spiritual need you have not answered? Could you be a better parent? Spouse? Perhaps keeping a journal or a small notebook would help each of us to weight, first, where we are, against, where we want to be and to create some decisive, concrete goals and bench marks along the way. If you get overwhelmed, perhaps the best idea is to try one thing at a time. When you feel like it’s on track move to the next. Knowing what one needs to do is half of the solution. Only we know when we are truly “achieving.”

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Jewish Unity- Enacting Ahavas Yisrael

How often do we bicker over our differences? Is it so offensive when someone doesn’t agree with us that we MUST resort to name calling and disparaging remarks? Perhaps the later is in part the result of an electronic world in which we can say nearly anything without having to face a person, and additionally, can choose to surround ourselves with people whose comments only agree with our stand. In the real world, after all, don’t we count ourselves lucky to be told by a friend, privately and tactfully, that we may have made an error, if only to correct it.

I’ve heard it said that, “All those who are more observant than me are fanatics, all those less observant than me, heretics.” And who hasn’t lived this? And before you get too comfortable, thinking that, after all you are not really religious-so it can’t be you, let me remind you it goes both ways!

In my personal experience in the past we have been criticized as being “too religious” by members who knew of my husband’s background and his Orthodox smecah. Although he is very careful to tell people what the laws are and what one should do to prepare for particular life events, he is gentle with people. One of his favorite remarks is “I’m a teacher, not a preacher.” We regularly have a people with a number diverse practices, degrees of observance, if you will.

On the other hand judgments go the other way, too. More recently, I was asked, in a private email of course, not to comment on a page because I am not an Orthodox Jew (and hence, it was later mentioned not a “real” Jew). Also, my husband was disparaged as was my shul, which was referred to as, “Temple Beth El Shabbos Desecrator.” I could wax on, but who wants that? We all have our tale to tell. Hillel said, “What is hateful to thyself do not do to another. That is the whole law, the rest is Commentary.” It sounds so simple and yet…

Don’t get me wrong, it is wonderful to have debates about halaka and discussions about minigs, but discussions and intelligent argument are not the same as bandying about inflammatory remarks or name calling.

It may seem like a long look at one subject, but that’s because I think solving this problem would go a long way to solving issues of unity. It is hard to make a conscious decision to fight fair, especially when in the back of ones mind they are holding on to the idea that “we are right”! Try to put it down.There maybe more than one right approach for some things.Tomorrow the person you are disagreeing with about a kipa could be wearing one!!!

One thing we can agree on is that we are all Jewish and are commanded to “love a fellow Jew.” One way to do that is to speak to each other respectfully and try to answer our differences tactfully. It is not a slight to our own beliefs to listen to an others and share our point of view without tearing anyone down.