04 April 2009

The Goal We Are Destined to Obtain

There are four character types among people: One who says "What is mine is mine, what is yours is yours," is an average character. Some say this is the character of Sodom. One who says, "What is mine is yours and what is yours is mine," is an ignoramus. One who says "What is mine is yours and what is yours is yours" is a godly person. And one who says "What is mine is mine and what is yours is mine" is a lawless person.
===from Pirke Avot

I was thinking about this line today during Shabbat services, contemplating what, exactly, the broad spectrum of the Congregation knows about what goes on at CBE on Shabbat. The diversification of our services on any given Shabbat is a true blessing--it's a great expression of the varied expressions of Jewish character along with social and spiritual aspirations of the community from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Some synagogues would be so pleased to have the vibrancy we have.

And in the general silos of experience, most of our membership (and certainly the non-members who avail themselves of our synagogue on Shabbat) would agree. We like what we have.

The challenge, with this particular text, is which category does it place us with regard to Shabbat? In some regards, it's kind of "average" for most synagogues to accept the diversification of its membership with the expression of "what's mine is mine and what's yours is yours," meaning "you do your thing on Shabbat and I'll do mine." It has a live and let live quality to it that is certainly not coercive or damaging but I often lament that it leaves something to be desired.

Could it be the element of "godliness," however the rabbis meant that term to be understood in Pirke Avot? "Mine is mine and yours is yours" lacks godliness, according to Samson Raphael Hirsch because it "expunges from the heart and mind the guiding principle of lovingkindness." Hirsch speaks for the aspirational aims of rabbinic Judaism in naming lovingkindness as a goal we are destined to obtain. It takes practice to get there.

The habitual attainment of this value is key. What makes someone "average" according to the Sages is that he or she merely focuses on oneself without regard to sharing with others; the element of Sodom (here a marker for avarice) is found when one says "mine is mine" really in a kind of hoarding way, where "yours is yours" has the gloss of "get what you can because I'm going to get what I can. That's why the Sages link so closely the "average" impulse with the impulse of Sodom. It's a harsh view but it's instructive.

With regard to social engagement at CBE, I'm interested in what would happen to the community if there was more habitual cross-pollinating. If individuals who enjoy the benefit of how they spend their Shabbat would purposely go to another's place, as it were, in order to declare, in lovingkindness, what is mine is yours and what is yours is yours. Which I think would mean: I fully embrace how you spend your Shabbat.

New York is a very focused town. It operates quickly, sometimes a bit too coldly, and generally according to the principle of tunnel vision. We move, like digits, throughout the system, rarely stopping to contemplate the meaning of it all. Shabbat insists on that ritualized pause, that breath of reflection and understanding, which arguably, creates more room for lovingkindness.

So please try it sometime.

Next time you walk into one of the two buildings for "your" particular Shabbat experience, visit mine, and his, and hers. And see if the urge to lovingkindness, the goal we are destined to obtain, can be brought forth.

On Fridays, there is always one service and twice a month there are two. Here is the menu to choose from on Saturdays (New Yorkers love choice on their menus):

1. Torah Study
2. Shir L'Shabbat
3. Yachad Family Shabbat
4. More Adult Study at Yachad
5. Bar/Bat Mitzvah Service
6. Lay-Led Minyan
7. Alt-shul (twice a month)

Funny how it turns out to be "7."
We didn't plan it that way.
It is just one of those goals we are destined to obtain.

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