Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

A Rabbi’s Advice to the Next Pope

pope rabbi

The Catholic Church is at a pivotal crossroads. Many are still processing the events of the past three weeks. For the first time in 600 years, a Pope resigned.

Then just a few days before the Conclave to elect the next Pope, a Cardinal withdrew because of sexual abuse charges.

These events come on the heels of the most massive and damaging leak of insider information to the media in the history of the Church. Current reports suggest some high-ranking officials are now being wiretapped by Vatican security.

The decision made by the Cardinals, and the leadership qualities of the next Pope, will shape the world of the twenty-first century. Here is my humble advice on what qualities and values will matter most:

1. Transparency: Louis Brandeis once said that “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” Leading an institution rocked by several scandals in an age where information flows widely and rapidly, the next Pope needs to bring in some sunshine.  

Greater transparency does not mean a change in doctrine. It does not demand any watering down of Church doctrine. It is not a call for greater liberalism.

It is simply a call for honesty. It is a call to match words with deed and hold leadership accountable to the people that make up the Church.

2. Courage: Leadership is not easy. It is even harder when you are responsibility for a 2000 year old institutions with over a billion adherents. The decisions the Pope makes will determine what kind of institution the Church will be.

While I have my own preferences, the decision is not mine. All I hope for is that whoever it is leads with courage of his convictions. This is not a time for a caretaker or a puppet for some other power. It is a time for visionary leadership.

3. Humility: The Pope traditionally wears a ring on his third finger known as the “Fisherman’s Ring.” It honors Saint Peter, a fisherman, and the early apostles, who were known as “fishers of men.”

The ring also can also symbolize the simplicity and humility of the fisherman. He must be patient, watchful and able to navigate through waves and rough currents.

He also depends on something much vaster than himself. The sea may seem empty and overwhelming at times, but it is the source of life and sustenance. So it is with the Pope (and any faith leader).

Ultimately, we do not depend on ourselves. We align ourselves with a power greater than ourselves.

It is my hope and prayer that this Power will be with the next Pope, and all those whom he leads and inspires.

To receive Rabbi Moffic’s weekly digest of Jewish wisdom, click here.

How Little Habits Can Change Your Life

little habits change your life

When meeting with couples I am preparing to marry, I often share with them a nugget of wisdom: “The little things are the big things.”

In other words, in sustaining a marriage, the daily acts we do make the greatest difference. It’s not how big or beautiful the wedding is. It’s how we express our commitment in daily life.

I thought this quote again as I finished a phenomenal book entitled The Power of Habits. Written by New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, it demonstrates the way achieving big goals on depends on seemingly simple routines and habits.

How This Process Works

We naturally develop habits and routines because our brainpower is limited. To conserve energy and allow it to learn new practices, the brain tries to convert regular and recurring sequences of action into automatic behaviors.

Common examples include driving, showering, or tying our shoes. While complicated at first, they become engrained behaviors, and we don’t have to think about them.

This natural process has both benefits and drawbacks. A key benefit is that we do not have to exert significant mental energy on routine tasks. Anyone who has taken drivers ed knows that driving is a complex process. Yet, once it becomes routine, it does not demand the same focus. 

How To Break Bad Habits

The main drawback is that habits and routines are hard to break. Consider the habit of going to bed too late and not getting enough sleep.

This habit might be sustained by a cue (the desire to relax and enjoy ourselves after a long day at work) and a reward (the relaxing pleasure of watching our favorite late-night TV show, for example).

To break this habit we would need to change the behavior, but keep the reward. As Duhigg puts it, “If you want to get rid of a bad habit, you have to find out how to implement a healthier routine to yield the same reward.

Why We Need Faith

But even this is not enough. If all we had to do was change the behavior, breaking harmful habits would be easy. We need more.

In particular, we need faith and community. As Duhigg writes, “For a habit to stay changed, people must believe that change is possible. And most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group.”

Faith is the most powerful habit-breaking and habit-forming tool we have. The presence of others who reinforce it makes us even stronger.
churchill habits

How Faith Helps Us Carry On

Faith also gives us the courage to carry on. In breaking bad habits or forming new ones, we will face obstacles. Our faith in our ability to change will give us the spiritual energy to succeed. Faith itself can become a powerful habit. 

Winston Churchill defined its power eloquently during the dark days of the Second World War. He was talking about Great Britain, but he could just as easily been talking about every human being:

“Sure I am that this day, we are masters of our fate; that the task which has been set before us is not above our strength; that its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance. As long as we have faith in our own cause and an unconquerable will to win, success will not be denied us.”

To receive Rabbi Moffic’s weekly digest of Jewish wisdom, click here.

 

Do You Know Your Responsibility?

Sometimes the Bible is startlingly relevant. In a recent podcast, writer and blogger Michael Hyatt pointed out the practical wisdom shared in the 18th chapter of Exodus, where Moses receives instruction from his father-in-law Jethro.

Let us recall the context: Moses had led the people out of Egypt and across the Red Sea. Since then, he had been overwhelmed with his responsibilities. In particular, he acted as the judge and jury for the entire people.

He personally settled all the disagreements and disputes that arose 600,000 Israelites marching with him through the Sinai desert. It was draining him.

A New Plan

During a visit with his father-in-law Jethro, Moses shared his frustration.

Jethro responded to him with very specific instructions: 1) Recognize that this pattern of leadership is not sustainable, 2) Focus on the actions that only you are capable of doing, 3) Set up a system to delegate the rest, and 4) Help those to whom you delegate grow in wisdom and leadership.

Moses takes up Jethro’s advice. In fact, Jethro’s spirit seems to shape Moses through the rest of the bible. He becomes humble and empowering toward those around him.

God Delegates Care of the World

As I thought about this story, I realized that it also conveys a deeper spiritual truth. Delegation is not just something we do to others. It is something God does to us.

After creating the world, God delegated responsibilty for sustaining it to us. The Jewish sages made this clear in a story they told about Adam, the first human being.

In this story, God takes Adam on a walk through the Garden of Eden. God points out all the different fruits and trees and says to Adam,  “See how beautiful are My works. All that I have created I made for you. But be careful that you do not ruin my world, for if you do, there is no one else to put right what you have destroyed!”

In other words, God created the world. We have the responsibility to maintain it.

To receive Rabbi Moffic’s weekly digest of Jewish wisdom, click here.

A Bar Mitzvah Boy Goes Viral

bar mitzvah video

A new video is causing a sensation in the Jewish community. Rather than send out a traditional save-the-date card for his Bar Mitzvah (Jewish coming of age ceremony), 12-year-old Daniel Blumen decided to create a rap video.

Weaving in various celebrities and political officials, the video highlights the meaning of his ceremony and his hometown of Atlanta. After a website wrote a story about the video, it went viral, receiving (as of this writing) 318,000 views.

Why the Fuss?

Reactions to the video have ranged from horror to shock to mild bemusement. The overwhelming attitude has been one of frustration.

Many have expressed concern about the focus on entertainment rather than spirituality. Is it appropriate for a religious ceremony to become fodder for a celebrity-laden rap video?

Rather than feel frustration, I watched the video with delight. It is cute, funny, and creative, and it is clear that Daniel is taking his religious studies seriously.

In this case, the medium is not the message. Rather, the message–the importance of his Jewish faith and studies–is enhanced by the medium.

Is There Too Much “Bar” and Not Enough “Mitzvah”?

The broader issue here is the relationship between religion and popular culture. Does engaging with pop culture somehow diminish the meaning of a spiritual message? Does religion’s association with pop stars somehow convey an endorsement of their values?

No and no. Faith does not need to be counter-cultural in order to exert a positive influence. It can use the tools of the larger culture to provide a meaningful critique and perspective on it.

Another broader issue is the meaning and purpose of the Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremony. Some see it as an unfortunate focus of contemporary Jewish life.

One of my rabbinic precessors forbid Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies at the synagogue because he said they involved “too much bar (drinking alcohol)” and “not enough mitzvah (doing good deeds).”

Living Our Faith

While this is undoubtedly true in some cases, the vast majority of families find Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies to be among the most moving experiences of their lives.

I’ve seen parents break down in tears as they bless their children; grandparents beam with joy as their grandchildren stand before the congregation; children gain self-esteen and confidence as they read from the Bible with poise and insight.  

One of Daniel’s teachers put it best when he said, “The world changes. We’re trying to get kids to take leadership positions and create a new world and not be stuck in the past. We encourage critical thinking and creativity..and a kid who’s put himself out there regarding his faith,  good for him.”

To that all we can say is, “Amen.”

To receive Rabbi Moffic’s weekly digest of Jewish wisdom, click here.

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