My personal reflection on the weekly Torah portion, “Atonement after Childbirth,” is featured in this month’s Melton School blog. “Torah from our Teachers” is a series written by Melton faculty members worldwide. Please share your thoughts & feedback!
What a week of celebrations! Sunday, Jews rejoiced on the holiday of Purim with feasting and giving gifts. Yesterday, known as Shushan Purim in the Jewish calendar, I observed the anniversary of my acceptance to Rabbinical School while friends celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. When I taught at the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, this was a special day in the calendar, because Assistant Head of School Patricia Kelly (of blessed memory) would always bake kosher Irish Soda Bread for the students and faculty.
Today I turn my attention—together with Catholics around the globe—to Pope Francis, who will mark the anniversary of his Papal Inauguration tomorrow, March 19th. Not long ago, at a Rabbis Without Borders retreat, a colleague pointed out that I made reference to “our pope.” It’s true that I desire to claim Pope Francis as a spiritual mentor; the more I learn about his leadership, the more I am inspired by him.
I recently read Chris Lowney’s elegant analysis of our pope’s leadership, Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads. Having trained as a Jesuit seminarian and worked as an investment banker, Lowney possesses unique insights about Pope Francis’ passion to serve, ability to make difficult decisions and authenticity as a role model. Introducing his overview of the pope’s fundamental approach to leadership, Lowney states of Pope Francis, “his habits are implicitly a challenge to the rest of us: to commit to live similarly, and thereby to champion a new way of leading in our culture.” (p. 9) Lowney promises to share “Lessons from the First Jesuit Pope” about successful leadership and he delivers from first chapter. Noting that Pope Francis leads by example, he writes, “The pope has not issued a single directive to his team about lifestyle and may never have to. His actions may have spoken for him. That’s leadership.” (p. 24) I found this book compelling because Lowney provides practical lessons that can be applied to rabbinic leadership, as well.
As I read the book on a rainy Sabbath afternoon, I filled my copy with sticky notes—marking the sentences that I wanted to return to and savor as I wrote this review. But as I sat down to type, I realized that quoting from the book does a disservice to both the author and his subject. Less is more, Lowney notes, recounting a Jesuit teaching: “Qui fecit nimis, fecit nihil, loosely put, the one who tries to do too much ends up accomplishing nothing.” (p. 92) Reading this, I am reminded of the rabbinic corollary found in the Talmud: “Tafasta merubah lo tafasta,” which I translate, if you grab too much you’re left holding nothing. There is no more that I can say of Lowney’s book or Pope Francis’ leadership other than that I find both to be exceptional; I would recommend that anyone in a leadership position—from Rabbis Without Borders alumni to young adults working as counselors in summer camps—read this book as an inspirational guide.
It has been an interesting week, along the lines of the so-called Chinese proverb. Disappearing airplanes on one side of the world, disappearing buildings on the other. I want to log off and escape from the news. I feel like curling up in bed with one of those eye masks and ear plugs, and not emerging until Monday. After Purim is over.
But Purim requires engagement with the real world. A rabbinic holiday, its observance is not specified in the Bible. So the rabbis designated its associated mitzvot (ritual obligations) to include giving gifts. We give gifts of charity to the poor and gifts of food to our friends. This gift-giving, along with the customs of feasting and celebrating the deliverance of the Jews of Shushan, is outlined in the Book of Esther, which we read publicly on the holiday.
This week, in addition to giving money to the poor and home-baked hamantaschen to my friends, I am giving a different sort of gift.
This week, I was given the honor of carrying this virtual torch in anticipation of the 2014 Compassion Games. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to give the gift of compassion. Keeping track of my acts of compassion in a journal, I’ve discovered that compassion is indeed a gift that can be given to oneself, as well as to other people. This week, I am mapping my acts of compassion on the Compassion Games web site; I hope to inspire others to participate in the games and to celebrate Atlanta’s designation as a compassionate city.
This week, I also find that I’ve been seeking refuge in the studio, channeling my feelings of compassion into my art. On Purim, I will share these three gifts of compassion. After Purim is over, I will pass the torch to another person in Metro Atlanta; I hope to facilitate additional gift-giving and pray that the deliverance of my people will be recorded in a book that will be read publicly centuries from now.
1. Amulet for Healing (upper left)
2. Found Object Sculpture/Trash Art: D-R-SH (upper right)
3. Elyse’ Phone: a Found Object Sculpture in progess (lower right)