Midwest Torah Center

Empowering Jewish Identity and Continuity in the 21st Century

What I Learned From A Muffler

Did you ever wonder how a seemingly religious person suddenly turns off and starts to live a secular life, abandoning kosher, shabbat, etc? While I’m sure a myriad amount of reasons could be presented, I’d like to present a possible scenario, a lesson, if you will, that I learned from my muffler. I bought a car that has two mufflers. Recently, as my car was being backed up, it hit a snowbank. When I was told about it, I saw that some snow was in one of my mufflers and while I tried to get it out, some was really jammed in it. So I figured that as I drive the heat from the muffler will melt the snow within minutes and I could happily go on my way. To my chagrin, upon coming to my point of destination, I saw that the snow was still in my muffler. Not understanding how that could happen, I decided to touch the muffler, like an item that you’re not sure whether or not it’s hot, only to find it was cold. I surmised that the second muffler was just there for show. As time went on and I had to have my car repaired for something else, the mechanic told me that both of my mufflers were disconnected, as they had rotted out at the connection point. The only thing that was keeping them in place were the brackets. That was fascinating to me. For all intent and purposes, the mufflers looked like they are attached. They were not hanging down, they were where they should be, yet unattached. I asked how quickly I needed to fix them, and if they were a hazard to me. His response was to fix it asap, but that it was not a hazard to me at all…rather to the guy behind me if I should ever hit a bump as it may just slip out. On my way home, attempting to avoid any holes, which is a good practice anyway, I started to think about what he told me and realized that it was a lesson of life. Just because I look connected and engaged, doesn’t mean that I am connected and engaged.
People go through the motions and as a result, most people observing, assume all is fine, because they seem connected. Yet, in reality, the fire is not burning. There may some some dying embers, but for the most part, one is disconnected from the source. The question becomes, is there a way to reconnect them to the source or do we have to just let them fall away? Some have chosen the latter, others the former. What do you think should happen?

It’s His Job

It’s always amazing to me how a shul runs before and after hiring a rabbi. Regardless of affiliation, the nascent shul starts off with a small group who are either unhappy with the options available or just starting a new venture. Either way, the shul is lay-run, with certain questions being asked to their previous rabbis or respected rabbinical authorities. Besides the questions though, the people lead services, read the Torah, make the calls for minyan, run the kitchen, etc, albeit through committee or some other device. The school, should there be one, is also lay-led, with the teachers being congregants who may or may not have had formal training. Then the exciting day arrives and enough money is being brought in allowing a Rabbi to be hired. The list of requirements and desired is made, people are interviewed and the choice is made. Finally the rabbi is hired and arrives ready to work.

Throughout my career, I have always maintained that if a shul wants to grow, it must be a joint-venture. As a result, I have always attempted to involve the laity in the growth. The problem that I have faced is that while many agree with the model, most don’t want to be the one doing the work. As the saying goes 20% does 80% of the work…thus leading to burnout.
I remember upon arriving at one of my positions, I found that the minyan was held together by calling people on the phone. This was in the days before social networking and iphones. Answering machines were your enemy as they could be ignored. To maintain the minyan was truly a thankless & frustrating job, which required hands-on work. The job required one to be able to withstand refusals and great excuses. I learned from one congregant that , “Any excuse is better than none.” Originally, the congregation had 2 people who were making the calls. One for the morning and one for the evening. But within a week or two of my arrival, I was presented with the list of congregants and the responsibility to maintain the minyan, amongst the rest of my duties. In reality, as a result of having this duty, I came to realize that every minyan that happened, and we had a 99% success rate, was really one of the hidden miracles of Hashem, and that while I had to make my efforts, it was all from Hashem. Why do I say that? Because, while we had a core group of Sabbath-observant, we did not have enough to make a minyan. It took getting others, who were not as committed to come twice a day. I was told many times by the non-observant that we had to increase the pool of attendees, to which I replied, “From where should I get them? Can you help me?” I was usually met with either blank stares or the response of “I don’t have the time” or “ I don’t know anyone.” I would retort that “In order to grow, I need your help.” To that , the response was usually, “Rabbi, minyan isn’t really one of my priorities. I want you to grow so that you don’t have to call me.” And that was the problem. People were willing to be number 10, but not number 11. Once they saw that we had a quorum, they would no longer feel needed and would leave.
The minyan is the most graphic example of stunted growth. But, if one looks at all of the committees and Boards, one will find the same people doing the bulk of the work, while others participate when they want. While it may appear that everything is working and healthy, it may not be the real picture. I believe that one of the best ways to grow is to get 90-100% participation and through the excitement of being part of the team and actively engaged, growth will only be limited by one’s imagination. Do you agree?

To Have Humility Is To Be Human

Humility is the key to success. Our Rabbis in Pirkei Avot said it best when they said, “Who is a wise man? One who learns from every person. As it says in Psalms, “From every man, I have become enlightened.” It is the truest testament to personal growth when I allow myself to learn from everyone. If I ever believe that someone has nothing to teach me, I am cutting myself of from a fountain of knowledge. As Rabbi Chanina said, “I have learned from my teacher, ever more from my colleagues, but I have learned the most from my students.” How could the teacher say that he learned the most from his students? His students saw the problem from their perspective and instead of crushing their initiative, he grew from it and encouraged their independent thought. As a result, his students gained a greater respect and love for their teacher and also understood that if they were to grow, they would also have to humble themselves and listen to people not as knowledgeable as them.
Every once and a while, when one returns from the “ivory tower of education” and is feeling overly self-important, something will happen to bring one back down to earth. In The Palm Tree Of Devorah authored by R Moshe Cordovera, he cites a case in the Talmud which reflects this reality. He states, “ Eliyahu the Prophet appeared to Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar as an ugly, despicably, loathsome pauper in order to enlighten him. For in his elation with his learning, he insulted the poor fellow, who then rebuked Rabbi Shimon profusely for his character defect.”
Humility is the key to being human. It is what makes us want to help others and to see the best in all. R Cordovera writes at length, with practical applications, as how to develop one’s humility. It is a worthwhile read and a great way to develop not only humility but many other important character traits that will greatly improve your life. Tell me what you think.

Who wants to be a millionaire?



   Who doesn’t like getting something for nothing?  We all love the “free” deal. All you have to do to garner attention is advertise “free stuff” and people will flock to your door…or website.  But is it ever really free? Heck no. There is always a string attached. After all the promises of teaching us how to do what the millionaires do for free, they end up by trying to sell us their program.  And should they be successful, it doesn’t stop there. Then we have to deal with the upsell. They tell us, “If we really want to accomplish great things we have to spend more money.” By the time we’re through, we’re in the hole and their making more money. As the saying goes, “the rich get richer.”  Well, I’m going to be different than everyone else. I’m going to present the keys to the kingdom. I’m going to tell you how to be rich without risking one penny. Are you ready? Would you really like to know? Wait now longer. Here it comes.

  Our Rabbis tell us, “Who is a rich person?   One who is happy with his lot.” That’s the whole secret to success.  It doesn’t mean to settle for the bottom. It means that one is truly happy with what one has, because one realizes that whatever one has is all Hashem deemed is necessary for one’s success.  It’s not the zeros attached to one’s financial statement, although that certainly seems to help some people, rather it’s the security of knowing that Hashem, our real employer, has our best interest in mind.  We all have a unique mission in this world, which no one else can do. When we internalize that reality, we become empowered to “move mountains.” When one understands that one is unique, one becomes overjoyed in their role.  After all, without them, the world does not continue to function properly. In the grand scheme of things, the janitor is just as important as the CEO, because the janitor insures that the physical plant is clean and that people want to enter the plant or building.  The teacher is as important as the principal, for while the principal determines the tone and vision of the school, it is the teacher who guarantees the success. It is the teacher who develops the lessons plans and has constant interaction with the students. Yet, without the principal or the CEO, and their vision and ability to give directions behind the scenes, the teacher and janitor would not be able to do their jobs either.  Ask either one if they want the others position and they will both respond in the negative. Not because one job is too demanding or demeaning, but rather because one enjoys the job they have. They find fulfillment in their respective roles. That is what the Rabbis meant when they said, “a rich man is one who is happy in his lot.” So the question is, “Are you a rich man? Let me hear from you.