Friday, September 18, 2015

Rosh Hashanah: Asking the Right Questions

Asking the Right Question

A man was criticized for failing to provide for his family. Times were hard. He couldn't find a job so he went into the fish business? So, after his first catch, he set up a makeshift shop underneath his sign: 'Fresh Fish for Sale Today!'

Everyone else can do everything better

The first passerby offered a criticism: 'Why would you use the word today?  Everyone knows you don't want to sell them yesterday or tomorrow. That leaves only today to sell them.' The man dutifully sawed off that last word and mounted the new version: 'Fresh Fish for Sale.'

The next passerby asked, 'Why use the word Fresh? Do you mean to imply that at other times the fish are not fresh? So again, he changed his sign. Now it said, 'Fish for Sale.'

The next critic said, 'Why not leave off the words for Sale? Any numbskull would know that's why you have a fish market?' More criticism, but it all seemed constructive. His sign now carried one word: 'Fish.'

Even then, he still had a critic: 'Why do you need to put up a sign at all? Anyone who comes within half a mile of this place knows from the smell what you are selling!'

Until finally, a passerby looked at him strangely and asked: why on earth are you sitting there with that smelly pile of fish?

Every single passerby intended to help. At least, that's what they told themselves. Not that any of them really knew how to sell fish -- but the fish seller's problems just seemed so obvious. It is so easy to know what other people are doing wrong.

And equally problematic, we have the would-be fish salesman. He was insecure. He assumed that everyone else knew how to sell fish better than he did. He started with what he thought was a good sign, automatically followed their advice, and progressed to no sign at all. And to a pile of smelly fish.

What happens when people take bad but well-intentioned advice?

Our poor fisherman thus becomes the worst nightmare of people who offer well-intentioned advice. He went broke.

Yes, we do know what other people should do. But we are often wrong. What happens when others do follow our advice and it turns out wrong?

Another story: withering glares

We have another story, from a different perspective. This one comes from from the Talmud, about two of our greatest scholars, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son. Rabbi Elazar. It's the opposite of our fisherman's plight.

When the Bar Kochbah revolt failed in the year 136, the rabbi and his son faced a death sentence from the Roman authorities. Father and son hid in a cave for twelve long years. How did they eat? A carob tree and a water well miraculously appeared! Father and son spent these years immersed in study and prayer and secure in the knowledge that they were following God's wish.

At the end of the twelfth year, the prophet Elijah appeared and announced: the Roman emperor is dead. The decree against Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son has been annulled.

The two men crept slowly out of the cave, as their eyes had to adjust to the glaring sunlight. After fully emerging, they saw people engaged in ordinary pursuits: plowing, sowing, making a living.

The two were enraged. The remnant of Israel should be praying, studying, turning to God! In their eyes, the people had turned their backs on life Eternal.

And so, everything they glared at ... burned. Their disapproval caused fires, so much that God's angry voice rang out: "Did you emerge to destroy My world? Go back to your cave!

And they did, this time for twelve months. God gave them permission to come out yet again. And what did they see? People hurrying to prepare for Shabbat. They were comforted. They saw that Israel still loved the mitzvot.

But here's the thing: the first time these rabbis emerged from the cave, they could have seen the same thing: Jews engaged in doing mitzvot.

The mitzvot might not have been as obvious as Shabbat observance. Rabbis Shimon and Elazar chose to see things through their own negative prism.

Did the two literally set things on fire by looking at them? Of course not. But the Talmud comes to teach us about the danger of unfair, unfounded criticism. Our own attitudes have the ability to wreak havoc.

This destruction came from wise, brilliant, devoted rabbis. They were so sure of their own insights. They were so sure -- they were blind to the truth. They looked at good people trying to do the right thing ... and all they could see was sin.

During their extra twelve months in the cave, they learned to readjust their own way of looking at things. Above all, they stopped seeing the world through their own self-righteousness.

High cost of even well-mentioned criticism

But the metaphor of destruction teaches that we can inflict serious damage on others with our criticism.

We cause pain to others. Even if we don't say a word about their perceived wrongdoing, do we think people don't feel it from us ... see it in our eyes? Hurting others ... cannot -- should not -- make us feel good!

We instill self-doubt in others, deprive them of confidence. Look at the poor fisherman in the first story. He listened to everyone else -- to his own serious harm.

And then there's the harm we do to ourselves. The more critical our attitude to others, the more we find ourselves incapable of opening our own hearts to relationship. The more we accustom ourselves to searching out the flaws in others, we blind ourselves to their good points. We don't want to be with others and we end up ... lonely.

But from a different viewpoint, who wants to be with people we know are looking for weakness? If we know someone is generally critical, we probably shy away from that person's company.

Meanwhile, as we all look furtively around, thinking: that's the person the rabbi is talking about, don't bother.

It's us. It's everyone of us.

However, we can fix this.

And here's the right question

When we catch ourselves looking at someone and and thinking about what they could do better, we can change the question. Instead, we should ask ourselves: what can this person teach me?

This doesn't mean that criticism is never justified. However, we must take care, because all too often, our criticism isn't as constructive as we think.

And now, as we enter the New Year, our imperative is to open our hearts to each other -- to our community. We cannot do this when we direct withering criticism to others -- or to ourselves.

We must reach out to others and cultivate a kinder attitude. If we do this, we widen our path to a year of blessing and goodness.

L'shalom v'livrachah, in peace and blessing, Rabbi Shaina


















View from the Bimah: Asking the Right Question

A man was criticized for failing to provide for his family. Times were hard. He couldn't find a job so he went into the fish business? So, after his first catch, he set up a makeshift shop underneath his sign: 'Fresh Fish for Sale Today!'

Everyone else can do everything better

The first passerby offered a criticism: 'Why would you use the word today?  Everyone knows you don't want to sell them yesterday or tomorrow. That leaves only today to sell them.' The man dutifully sawed off that last word and mounted the new version: 'Fresh Fish for Sale.'

The next passerby asked, 'Why use the word Fresh? Do you mean to imply that at other times the fish are not fresh? So again, he changed his sign. Now it said, 'Fish for Sale.'

The next critic said, 'Why not leave off the words for Sale? Any numbskull would know that's why you have a fish market?' More criticism, but it all seemed constructive. His sign now carried one word: 'Fish.'

Even then, he still had a critic: 'Why do you need to put up a sign at all? Anyone who comes within half a mile of this place knows from the smell what you are selling!'

Until finally, a passerby looked at him strangely and asked: why on earth are you sitting there with that smelly pile of fish?

Every single passerby intended to help. At least, that's what they told themselves. Not that any of them really knew how to sell fish -- but the fish seller's problems just seemed so obvious. It is so easy to know what other people are doing wrong.

And equally problematic, we have the would-be fish salesman. He was insecure. He assumed that everyone else knew how to sell fish better than he did. He started with what he thought was a good sign, automatically followed their advice, and progressed to no sign at all. And to a pile of smelly fish.

What happens when people take bad but well-intentioned advice?

Our poor fisherman thus becomes the worst nightmare of people who offer well-intentioned advice. He went broke.

Yes, we do know what other people should do. But we are often wrong. What happens when others do follow our advice and it turns out wrong?

Another story: withering glares

We have another story, from a different perspective. This one comes from from the Talmud, about two of our greatest scholars, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son. Rabbi Elazar. It's the opposite of our fisherman's plight.

When the Bar Kochbah revolt failed in the year 136, the rabbi and his son faced a death sentence from the Roman authorities. Father and son hid in a cave for twelve long years. How did they eat? A carob tree and a water well miraculously appeared! Father and son spent these years immersed in study and prayer and secure in the knowledge that they were following God's wish.

At the end of the twelfth year, the prophet Elijah appeared and announced: the Roman emperor is dead. The decree against Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son has been annulled.

The two men crept slowly out of the cave, as their eyes had to adjust to the glaring sunlight. After fully emerging, they saw people engaged in ordinary pursuits: plowing, sowing, making a living.

The two were enraged. The remnant of Israel should be praying, studying, turning to God! In their eyes, the people had turned their backs on life Eternal.

And so, everything they glared at ... burned. Their disapproval caused fires, so much that God's angry voice rang out: "Did you emerge to destroy My world? Go back to your cave!

And they did, this time for twelve months. God gave them permission to come out yet again. And what did they see? People hurrying to prepare for Shabbat. They were comforted. They saw that Israel still loved the mitzvot.

But here's the thing: the first time these rabbis emerged from the cave, they could have seen the same thing: Jews engaged in doing mitzvot.

The mitzvot might not have been as obvious as Shabbat observance. Rabbis Shimon and Elazar chose to see things through their own negative prism.

Did the two literally set things on fire by looking at them? Of course not. But the Talmud comes to teach us about the danger of unfair, unfounded criticism. Our own attitudes have the ability to wreak havoc.

This destruction came from wise, brilliant, devoted rabbis. They were so sure of their own insights. They were so sure -- they were blind to the truth. They looked at good people trying to do the right thing ... and all they could see was sin.

During their extra twelve months in the cave, they learned to readjust their own way of looking at things. Above all, they stopped seeing the world through their own self-righteousness.

High cost of even well-mentioned criticism

But the metaphor of destruction teaches that we can inflict serious damage on others with our criticism.

We cause pain to others. Even if we don't say a word about their perceived wrongdoing, do we think people don't feel it from us ... see it in our eyes? Hurting others ... cannot -- should not -- make us feel good!

We instill self-doubt in others, deprive them of confidence. Look at the poor fisherman in the first story. He listened to everyone else -- to his own serious harm.

And then there's the harm we do to ourselves. The more critical our attitude to others, the more we find ourselves incapable of opening our own hearts to relationship. The more we accustom ourselves to searching out the flaws in others, we blind ourselves to their good points. We don't want to be with others and we end up ... lonely.

But from a different viewpoint, who wants to be with people we know are looking for weakness? If we know someone is generally critical, we probably shy away from that person's company.

Meanwhile, as we all look furtively around, thinking: that's the person the rabbi is talking about, don't bother.

It's us. It's everyone of us.

However, we can fix this.

And here's the right question

When we catch ourselves looking at someone and and thinking about what they could do better, we can change the question. Instead, we should ask ourselves: what can this person teach me?

This doesn't mean that criticism is never justified. However, we must take care, because all too often, our criticism isn't as constructive as we think.

And now, as we enter the New Year, our imperative is to open our hearts to each other -- to our community. We cannot do this when we direct withering criticism to others -- or to ourselves.

We must reach out to others and cultivate a kinder attitude. If we do this, we widen our path to a year of blessing and goodness.

L'shalom v'livrachah, in peace and blessing, Rabbi Shaina











View from the Bimah: Asking the Right Question

A man was criticized for failing to provide for his family. Times were hard. He couldn't find a job so he went into the fish business? So, after his first catch, he set up a makeshift shop underneath his sign: 'Fresh Fish for Sale Today!'

Everyone else can do everything better

The first passerby offered a criticism: 'Why would you use the word today?  Everyone knows you don't want to sell them yesterday or tomorrow. That leaves only today to sell them.' The man dutifully sawed off that last word and mounted the new version: 'Fresh Fish for Sale.'

The next passerby asked, 'Why use the word Fresh? Do you mean to imply that at other times the fish are not fresh? So again, he changed his sign. Now it said, 'Fish for Sale.'

The next critic said, 'Why not leave off the words for Sale? Any numbskull would know that's why you have a fish market?' More criticism, but it all seemed constructive. His sign now carried one word: 'Fish.'

Even then, he still had a critic: 'Why do you need to put up a sign at all? Anyone who comes within half a mile of this place knows from the smell what you are selling!'

Until finally, a passerby looked at him strangely and asked: why on earth are you sitting there with that smelly pile of fish?

Every single passerby intended to help. At least, that's what they told themselves. Not that any of them really knew how to sell fish -- but the fish seller's problems just seemed so obvious. It is so easy to know what other people are doing wrong.

And equally problematic, we have the would-be fish salesman. He was insecure. He assumed that everyone else knew how to sell fish better than he did. He started with what he thought was a good sign, automatically followed their advice, and progressed to no sign at all. And to a pile of smelly fish.

What happens when people take bad but well-intentioned advice?

Our poor fisherman thus becomes the worst nightmare of people who offer well-intentioned advice. He went broke.

Yes, we do know what other people should do. But we are often wrong. What happens when others do follow our advice and it turns out wrong?

Another story: withering glares

We have another story, from a different perspective. This one comes from from the Talmud, about two of our greatest scholars, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son. Rabbi Elazar. It's the opposite of our fisherman's plight.

When the Bar Kochbah revolt failed in the year 136, the rabbi and his son faced a death sentence from the Roman authorities. Father and son hid in a cave for twelve long years. How did they eat? A carob tree and a water well miraculously appeared! Father and son spent these years immersed in study and prayer and secure in the knowledge that they were following God's wish.

At the end of the twelfth year, the prophet Elijah appeared and announced: the Roman emperor is dead. The decree against Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son has been annulled.

The two men crept slowly out of the cave, as their eyes had to adjust to the glaring sunlight. After fully emerging, they saw people engaged in ordinary pursuits: plowing, sowing, making a living.

The two were enraged. The remnant of Israel should be praying, studying, turning to God! In their eyes, the people had turned their backs on life Eternal.

And so, everything they glared at ... burned. Their disapproval caused fires, so much that God's angry voice rang out: "Did you emerge to destroy My world? Go back to your cave!

And they did, this time for twelve months. God gave them permission to come out yet again. And what did they see? People hurrying to prepare for Shabbat. They were comforted. They saw that Israel still loved the mitzvot.

But here's the thing: the first time these rabbis emerged from the cave, they could have seen the same thing: Jews engaged in doing mitzvot.

The mitzvot might not have been as obvious as Shabbat observance. Rabbis Shimon and Elazar chose to see things through their own negative prism.

Did the two literally set things on fire by looking at them? Of course not. But the Talmud comes to teach us about the danger of unfair, unfounded criticism. Our own attitudes have the ability to wreak havoc.

This destruction came from wise, brilliant, devoted rabbis. They were so sure of their own insights. They were so sure -- they were blind to the truth. They looked at good people trying to do the right thing ... and all they could see was sin.

During their extra twelve months in the cave, they learned to readjust their own way of looking at things. Above all, they stopped seeing the world through their own self-righteousness.

High cost of even well-mentioned criticism

But the metaphor of destruction teaches that we can inflict serious damage on others with our criticism.

We cause pain to others. Even if we don't say a word about their perceived wrongdoing, do we think people don't feel it from us ... see it in our eyes? Hurting others ... cannot -- should not -- make us feel good!

We instill self-doubt in others, deprive them of confidence. Look at the poor fisherman in the first story. He listened to everyone else -- to his own serious harm.

And then there's the harm we do to ourselves. The more critical our attitude to others, the more we find ourselves incapable of opening our own hearts to relationship. The more we accustom ourselves to searching out the flaws in others, we blind ourselves to their good points. We don't want to be with others and we end up ... lonely.

But from a different viewpoint, who wants to be with people we know are looking for weakness? If we know someone is generally critical, we probably shy away from that person's company.

Meanwhile, as we all look furtively around, thinking: that's the person the rabbi is talking about, don't bother.

It's us. It's everyone of us.

However, we can fix this.

And here's the right question

When we catch ourselves looking at someone and and thinking about what they could do better, we can change the question. Instead, we should ask ourselves: what can this person teach me?

This doesn't mean that criticism is never justified. However, we must take care, because all too often, our criticism isn't as constructive as we think.

And now, as we enter the New Year, our imperative is to open our hearts to each other -- to our community. We cannot do this when we direct withering criticism to others -- or to ourselves.

We must reach out to others and cultivate a kinder attitude. If we do this, we widen our path to a year of blessing and goodness.

L'shalom v'livrachah, in peace and blessing, Rabbi Shaina





























View from the Bimah: Asking the Right Question

A man was criticized for failing to provide for his family. Times were hard. He couldn't find a job so he went into the fish business? So, after his first catch, he set up a makeshift shop underneath his sign: 'Fresh Fish for Sale Today!'

Everyone else can do everything better

The first passerby offered a criticism: 'Why would you use the word today?  Everyone knows you don't want to sell them yesterday or tomorrow. That leaves only today to sell them.' The man dutifully sawed off that last word and mounted the new version: 'Fresh Fish for Sale.'

The next passerby asked, 'Why use the word Fresh? Do you mean to imply that at other times the fish are not fresh? So again, he changed his sign. Now it said, 'Fish for Sale.'

The next critic said, 'Why not leave off the words for Sale? Any numbskull would know that's why you have a fish market?' More criticism, but it all seemed constructive. His sign now carried one word: 'Fish.'

Even then, he still had a critic: 'Why do you need to put up a sign at all? Anyone who comes within half a mile of this place knows from the smell what you are selling!'

Until finally, a passerby looked at him strangely and asked: why on earth are you sitting there with that smelly pile of fish?

Every single passerby intended to help. At least, that's what they told themselves. Not that any of them really knew how to sell fish -- but the fish seller's problems just seemed so obvious. It is so easy to know what other people are doing wrong.

And equally problematic, we have the would-be fish salesman. He was insecure. He assumed that everyone else knew how to sell fish better than he did. He started with what he thought was a good sign, automatically followed their advice, and progressed to no sign at all. And to a pile of smelly fish.

What happens when people take bad but well-intentioned advice?

Our poor fisherman thus becomes the worst nightmare of people who offer well-intentioned advice. He went broke.

Yes, we do know what other people should do. But we are often wrong. What happens when others do follow our advice and it turns out wrong?

Another story: withering glares

We have another story, from a different perspective. This one comes from from the Talmud, about two of our greatest scholars, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son. Rabbi Elazar. It's the opposite of our fisherman's plight.

When the Bar Kochbah revolt failed in the year 136, the rabbi and his son faced a death sentence from the Roman authorities. Father and son hid in a cave for twelve long years. How did they eat? A carob tree and a water well miraculously appeared! Father and son spent these years immersed in study and prayer and secure in the knowledge that they were following God's wish.

At the end of the twelfth year, the prophet Elijah appeared and announced: the Roman emperor is dead. The decree against Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son has been annulled.

The two men crept slowly out of the cave, as their eyes had to adjust to the glaring sunlight. After fully emerging, they saw people engaged in ordinary pursuits: plowing, sowing, making a living.

The two were enraged. The remnant of Israel should be praying, studying, turning to God! In their eyes, the people had turned their backs on life Eternal.

And so, everything they glared at ... burned. Their disapproval caused fires, so much that God's angry voice rang out: "Did you emerge to destroy My world? Go back to your cave!

And they did, this time for twelve months. God gave them permission to come out yet again. And what did they see? People hurrying to prepare for Shabbat. They were comforted. They saw that Israel still loved the mitzvot.

But here's the thing: the first time these rabbis emerged from the cave, they could have seen the same thing: Jews engaged in doing mitzvot.

The mitzvot might not have been as obvious as Shabbat observance. Rabbis Shimon and Elazar chose to see things through their own negative prism.

Did the two literally set things on fire by looking at them? Of course not. But the Talmud comes to teach us about the danger of unfair, unfounded criticism. Our own attitudes have the ability to wreak havoc.

This destruction came from wise, brilliant, devoted rabbis. They were so sure of their own insights. They were so sure -- they were blind to the truth. They looked at good people trying to do the right thing ... and all they could see was sin.

During their extra twelve months in the cave, they learned to readjust their own way of looking at things. Above all, they stopped seeing the world through their own self-righteousness.

High cost of even well-mentioned criticism

But the metaphor of destruction teaches that we can inflict serious damage on others with our criticism.

We cause pain to others. Even if we don't say a word about their perceived wrongdoing, do we think people don't feel it from us ... see it in our eyes? Hurting others ... cannot -- should not -- make us feel good!

We instill self-doubt in others, deprive them of confidence. Look at the poor fisherman in the first story. He listened to everyone else -- to his own serious harm.

And then there's the harm we do to ourselves. The more critical our attitude to others, the more we find ourselves incapable of opening our own hearts to relationship. The more we accustom ourselves to searching out the flaws in others, we blind ourselves to their good points. We don't want to be with others and we end up ... lonely.

But from a different viewpoint, who wants to be with people we know are looking for weakness? If we know someone is generally critical, we probably shy away from that person's company.

Meanwhile, as we all look furtively around, thinking: that's the person the rabbi is talking about, don't bother.

It's us. It's everyone of us.

However, we can fix this.

And here's the right question

When we catch ourselves looking at someone and and thinking about what they could do better, we can change the question. Instead, we should ask ourselves: what can this person teach me?

This doesn't mean that criticism is never justified. However, we must take care, because all too often, our criticism isn't as constructive as we think.

And now, as we enter the New Year, our imperative is to open our hearts to each other -- to our community. We cannot do this when we direct withering criticism to others -- or to ourselves.

We must reach out to others and cultivate a kinder attitude. If we do this, we widen our path to a year of blessing and goodness.

L'shalom v'livrachah, in peace and blessing, Rabbi Shaina




























View from the Bimah: Asking the Right Question

A man was criticized for failing to provide for his family. Times were hard. He couldn't find a job so he went into the fish business? So, after his first catch, he set up a makeshift shop underneath his sign: 'Fresh Fish for Sale Today!'

Everyone else can do everything better

The first passerby offered a criticism: 'Why would you use the word today?  Everyone knows you don't want to sell them yesterday or tomorrow. That leaves only today to sell them.' The man dutifully sawed off that last word and mounted the new version: 'Fresh Fish for Sale.'

The next passerby asked, 'Why use the word Fresh? Do you mean to imply that at other times the fish are not fresh? So again, he changed his sign. Now it said, 'Fish for Sale.'

The next critic said, 'Why not leave off the words for Sale? Any numbskull would know that's why you have a fish market?' More criticism, but it all seemed constructive. His sign now carried one word: 'Fish.'

Even then, he still had a critic: 'Why do you need to put up a sign at all? Anyone who comes within half a mile of this place knows from the smell what you are selling!'

Until finally, a passerby looked at him strangely and asked: why on earth are you sitting there with that smelly pile of fish?

Every single passerby intended to help. At least, that's what they told themselves. Not that any of them really knew how to sell fish -- but the fish seller's problems just seemed so obvious. It is so easy to know what other people are doing wrong.

And equally problematic, we have the would-be fish salesman. He was insecure. He assumed that everyone else knew how to sell fish better than he did. He started with what he thought was a good sign, automatically followed their advice, and progressed to no sign at all. And to a pile of smelly fish.

What happens when people take bad but well-intentioned advice?

Our poor fisherman thus becomes the worst nightmare of people who offer well-intentioned advice. He went broke.

Yes, we do know what other people should do. But we are often wrong. What happens when others do follow our advice and it turns out wrong?

Another story: withering glares

We have another story, from a different perspective. This one comes from from the Talmud, about two of our greatest scholars, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son. Rabbi Elazar. It's the opposite of our fisherman's plight.

When the Bar Kochbah revolt failed in the year 136, the rabbi and his son faced a death sentence from the Roman authorities. Father and son hid in a cave for twelve long years. How did they eat? A carob tree and a water well miraculously appeared! Father and son spent these years immersed in study and prayer and secure in the knowledge that they were following God's wish.

At the end of the twelfth year, the prophet Elijah appeared and announced: the Roman emperor is dead. The decree against Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son has been annulled.

The two men crept slowly out of the cave, as their eyes had to adjust to the glaring sunlight. After fully emerging, they saw people engaged in ordinary pursuits: plowing, sowing, making a living.

The two were enraged. The remnant of Israel should be praying, studying, turning to God! In their eyes, the people had turned their backs on life Eternal.

And so, everything they glared at ... burned. Their disapproval caused fires, so much that God's angry voice rang out: "Did you emerge to destroy My world? Go back to your cave!

And they did, this time for twelve months. God gave them permission to come out yet again. And what did they see? People hurrying to prepare for Shabbat. They were comforted. They saw that Israel still loved the mitzvot.

But here's the thing: the first time these rabbis emerged from the cave, they could have seen the same thing: Jews engaged in doing mitzvot.

The mitzvot might not have been as obvious as Shabbat observance. Rabbis Shimon and Elazar chose to see things through their own negative prism.

Did the two literally set things on fire by looking at them? Of course not. But the Talmud comes to teach us about the danger of unfair, unfounded criticism. Our own attitudes have the ability to wreak havoc.

This destruction came from wise, brilliant, devoted rabbis. They were so sure of their own insights. They were so sure -- they were blind to the truth. They looked at good people trying to do the right thing ... and all they could see was sin.

During their extra twelve months in the cave, they learned to readjust their own way of looking at things. Above all, they stopped seeing the world through their own self-righteousness.

High cost of even well-mentioned criticism

But the metaphor of destruction teaches that we can inflict serious damage on others with our criticism.

We cause pain to others. Even if we don't say a word about their perceived wrongdoing, do we think people don't feel it from us ... see it in our eyes? Hurting others ... cannot -- should not -- make us feel good!

We instill self-doubt in others, deprive them of confidence. Look at the poor fisherman in the first story. He listened to everyone else -- to his own serious harm.

And then there's the harm we do to ourselves. The more critical our attitude to others, the more we find ourselves incapable of opening our own hearts to relationship. The more we accustom ourselves to searching out the flaws in others, we blind ourselves to their good points. We don't want to be with others and we end up ... lonely.

But from a different viewpoint, who wants to be with people we know are looking for weakness? If we know someone is generally critical, we probably shy away from that person's company.

Meanwhile, as we all look furtively around, thinking: that's the person the rabbi is talking about, don't bother.

It's us. It's everyone of us.

However, we can fix this.

And here's the right question

When we catch ourselves looking at someone and and thinking about what they could do better, we can change the question. Instead, we should ask ourselves: what can this person teach me?

This doesn't mean that criticism is never justified. However, we must take care, because all too often, our criticism isn't as constructive as we think.

And now, as we enter the New Year, our imperative is to open our hearts to each other -- to our community. We cannot do this when we direct withering criticism to others -- or to ourselves.

We must reach out to others and cultivate a kinder attitude. If we do this, we widen our path to a year of blessing and goodness.

L'shalom v'livrachah, in peace and blessing, Rabbi Shaina
















































































































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