Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

How To Pay It Forward

payitforward

Last week I conducted a funeral service for the matriarch of a large family. Meeting with her children and grandchildren, I learned about the immense acts of kindness she did for so many. They spoke about the hundreds of calls they had been receiving, from her former hairdresser to long-forgotten work colleagues.

The family members said to me, “Isn’t it sad that she didn’t get to live to hear all these wonderful memories? Isn’t it too bad that she did not know what an impact she had on others?

“I understand your feeling,” I replied. “But this is the way life. We never know all of the consequences our actions may have.” Indeed, think about it. When we help another person, we do not know if and how they may repay it. We rarely know the way the little things we do may end up becoming big things.

What does this teach us? We need to grab every opportunity to perform an act of kindness. We never know what benefits it might bring.

Pay It Forward

The hit movie Pay It Forward proceeds on this premise. Each act of kindness is “paid forward” rather than repaid. In other words, we express gratitude to someone by doing a good deed for someone else. Our one act of kindness therefore creates dozens, hundreds and even thousands more.

Two thousand years ago the Jewish sages proposed this very idea. They wrote that the “one mitzvah—good deed–leads to another mitzvah.” They did not describe how it works. They did not try to prove it through any logical formula.

They simply held that as a matter of faith, no sacred act is for nought. Every act builds on the ones that came before it. Every sacred act brings us closer to the world as God intended it to be.

In the end, what we do shapes the way we are remembered. “The best portion” of our lives, as the great English poet William Wordsworth put it, are the “little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love.” To that we can only say Amen.

 

What You See Is What You Get?

meeting-in-the-woods-1863

Once upon a time, a couple came to a new town. On the road they met a man. They asked him, “How are the people in this town?” He replied, “Where are you coming from?” They told him.

He then asked, “And how were the people in that town?” The couple replied, “They were selfish and mean.” The man then said, “And so you will find the people here selfish and mean.”

A few minutes later another couple walked toward the town. They saw the same man. They asked him, “How are the people in this town?”

He then asked them about the people where they came from. The couple replied, “They were wonderful and kind.” The man then said, “And so you will find the people here wonderful and kind.”

What we see is what we get. When we look for the good in people, we will discover it. When we look for the bad, we will find that, too. Which would we rather see?

Am I Naive? 

No, I am not asking us to ignore the bad and live with rose-colored lens. Denial is not a solution to life’s problems. Rather, I am suggesting we try to give people the benefit of the doubt.

At a recent funeral I conducted for a beloved family matriarch, her children noted constantly that their mother “always looked for the best in people.” They saw this trait as part of the reason so many loved and cherished her over her 92 years.

Looking for the best in people can take work. Here are some steps to guide us.

1. Check your instincts: Are you the type of person that naturally looks for the negative in others? If so, try to check yourself. When you see your mind immediately looking for what’s wrong, stop and think about what might be right. The power of focus is extraordinary. Use it to shape where you place your attention.

2. Greet people with a smile: A smile not only puts others at ease. It affects our own brains. Smiling releases hormones and endorphins that can put us in a better mood, and naturally make us think better of others.

3. Become more self-accepting: Are we criticizing in others what we do not like in ourselves? This tendency is all too common. We may feel embarrassed about something we do, and when we see it in others, we enact our anger at ourselves. Rather than redirect our frustration, we can name and accept it. We will feel better about ourselves and others.

4. Prepare your mind: I used to dread going to meetings. On some level, I still do. But now, before most meetings, I tell myself I am going to learn something new and move closer to completing an important project. We can apply the same technique to people.

We may notice an annoying trait about another person we are going to see. But if we tell ourselves ahead of time that we are going to look for the positive, we will be more likely to notice it. This one technique–preparing to look for the positive–can help make the dull interesting and boring exciting.

5. Be interested in others: One of my favorite verses from the Talmud is “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone.” What better way is there to find goodness in another than to learn from them? Life glows brighter when we have an open mind and open heart.

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

Is Paradise a Cabin in the Woods?

cabin in the woods

It’s been a hectic few weeks for me and my family. Sometimes in the midst of these days, I dream of a quiet peaceful place, where sounds are calming and life is unhurried. We all dream of such places.

But would such a life be meaningful? A poem I came across recently poses this question. I find its answer deeply meaningful. The poem is by Mary Oliver:

There is a thing in me that dreamed of trees

A quiet house, some green and modest acres

A little way from every troubling town,

A little way from factories, schools, laments.

I would have time, I thought, and time to spare,

With only streams and birds for company,

To build out of my life a few wild stanzas.

And then it came to me, that so was death,

A little way away from everywhere…

I would that it were not so, but so it is.

Who ever made music of a mild day?

An old Jewish saying tells us that “Life is with people.” It is with people–in the rough and tumble of life–that beautiful music is made and true meaning is found.

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

Government Shutdown: An Optimist Against All Better Judgment

optimist

The government shutdown raises acute questions about the role and responsibility of leadership. We entrusted our fiscal and governing responsibility to people who cannot seem to execute it.

Is there a way out? Is there something  the world’s oldest religion teach the leaders of the world’s most powerful nation? Absolutely.

1. Listen: All too often we simply do not listen. We hear what another person is saying, but  we have already made up our mind. We seem to be listening when we are really awaiting our chance to speak.

Listening is not a passive act. It is a mode of communication. It shapes the way we look at the world.

Picture a person you know is a good listener. You probably respect them. You seriously consider what he they say.

Now picture someone you know just waits for their turn to speak. You probably dismiss what they say.

Unfortunately, our government seems to be filled with people in the second category.  True leaders are listeners, and we need more of them. 

2. Recognize the needs of the moment: The Book of Ecclesiastes has that beautiful series of verses: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven… a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up.”

Image: U.S. Capitol On Lockdown After Reports Of Gun Shots

When we look around us–when we see unpaid policemen at the US Capital putting their own lives on the line to protect civilians–we recognize it is not the time give up. It is not the time to blame. It is the time to act.

3. Do not give up hope: American politics has always been messy. The political parties of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams called one another traitors. In the nineteenth century fistfights broke out on the floor of the Congress. Yet, we found a way through.

If Judaism has any core lesson to teach, it is the centrality of hope. David Ben Gurion, the first President of Israel, called himself “an optimist against all better judgment.” I am optimistic  (though it takes a lot of faith) that our leaders will use their better judgment.

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

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