A Message From Rabbi Tom: Conflict As A Sign Of Trust

November/December 2018 – Cheshvan/Kislev/Tevet
Volume 5779

Rabbi Tom SamuelsOver the past two years since I assumed the role of spiritual leader at MCJC, so much has happened. Many of our members have found their Jewish voices and their Jewish community at MCJC. On
the flip side, others felt like their community had the rug pulled from underneath them. This makes me both sad and hopeful. Sad for the hurt, and hopeful for the momentum of imagination and aspiration.

I am relatively new, and still a “greenhorn” to the MCJC community. But I do know, respect, and value that it is trust that is at the core of all thriving relationships, let alone one as complex and intimate as a spiritual community.

What this means in practical terms is that time is everything because trust can only compound with time. People that work together, get better, and get stronger. Because it takes time to develop the trust, you need real candor and openness. And with this comes conflict, and a sort of determinant for when people feel safe and committed.

As Margaret Heffernan says in her viral TED Talk, “Conflict is frequent because candor is safe. And that’s how good ideas turn into great ideas. Because no idea is born fully formed. It emerges as a child is born: kind of messy and confused, but full of possibilities.”

This is at the heart of the Jewish Way: where a whole bunch of people come together, determined to support each other, challenge each other, argue with each other, and compromise for each other. We come together and create a visionary community with a sacred purpose that infuses all aspects of the synagogue, and where the
whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Where Torah, avodah, and g’milut chasadim are intertwined throughout synagogue life. Where meaningful engagement is achieved through repeated inspirational experiences that infuse people’s lives with meaning. And where there is a disposition for innovation, marked by a search for diversity and alternatives, and most importantly, a high tolerance for possible failure (Professor Steve Cohen).

Ayn Hadash Tachat HaShemesh, There is nothing new under the sun, wrote the author of Ecclesiastes. We as a People have been down this road many times.

An old Hassidic tale from the mid 19th century tells of Reb Yissachar who traveled to see his rebbe, Reb Yaakov Yitzchak, the Chozeh of Lublin. Arriving at his rebbe’s study, he said, “Show me one general way that all of us might serve God.” “One way?” the Seer said. “What makes you think there is one way? Are people all the same that a single practice would suit them all?” “Then how am I to teach people to find God?” Rebbe Yissachar Dov asked. “It is impossible to tell people how they should serve. For one, the way is the way of study; for another, the way is the way of prayer; for another, the way is the way of fasting or feasting; for another, the way is the way of service to one’s neighbor.” “Then what shall I tell those who ask me for guidance in this area?” “Tell them this,” the Chozeh said. “Carefully observe the way of your own heart, see what stirs your passion for God and godliness, and then do that with all your heart and all your strength” (Rabbi Rami Shapiro).

Judaism, the Chozeh of Lublin is teaching through this story, is a message of iconoclasm. Never about complacency. Never about a kitsch-like nostalgia. Never about some amorphous sense of obligation. Never about a list of rules and beliefs set in stone. Never about the maintenance of rituals and behaviors from a particular moment in history. And never about Jewish continuity as an end unto itself (Douglas Rushkoff).

Jews must consciously decide whether and how to identify as Jews. We must ask ourselves, each and every day, Why be Jewish? Do we have an obligation to remain part of the Jewish people? Where does that obligation come from? Who (or what) makes that obligation real? If I choose not to be Jewish, what do I lose? Would our lives be significantly impoverished if we choose not to make Jewish connection a central part of life? And perhaps even more fundamentally, we must ask, What does Judaism offer that I cannot find in secular society?

Rabbi Danny Gordis teaches that the word for “crisis” in Hebrew is mashber, a word also used for “birthstone,” a seat upon which a woman in ancient times sat as she gave birth. “The Hebrew language, Gordis writes, “recognizes that while crises are often
frightening, they are also filled with potential. Adversity, our tradition suggests, needs to be turned into opportunity.” These questions and this process, as with all transitions, can be a daunting process. And so, we do this as a community. Not alone.

I look forward to continuing on the beautiful, sacred journey together, with all of you.

B’Shalom,
Rabbi Tom

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