As a response to my last blog several weeks ago, I have a challenge for each one of us. While we may not be able to change the often mean-spirited tone that permeates our society, especially during this election season, and, while we may not be able to stop some of the inappropriate messages of the pop culture that surrounds us, we can make a difference within the walls of the Hillel community, and in our own homes. You see, I am an optimist, and, I believe that people have the capacity to be good, and to “do good,” in spite of all the negativity that seems to fill our world. I also believe that if we want our children to grow to be adults who have a strong positive character infused with Jewish values, then we must lead by example.
We can fully realize the mission of our school, and bring our core Jewish values to life. It takes each one of us. I know it is not easy, and I know there are many who don’t believe that people can change, and improve.
In fact, as I sat down to write this, I came across a quote by Benjamin Franklin that seems to prove the negative:
“Who is wise? He that learns from everyone. Who is powerful? He that governs his passions. Who is rich? He that is content. Who is that? Nobody.”
The first three questions and answers come from the Mishnah, with an assumption that such people can, and do exist. The last one is, sadly, Benjamin Franklin’s conclusion about the human condition, and our inclinations. (I was pretty impressed that Benjamin Franklin knew Mishnah!)
It may be that Mr. Franklin is right. I, however, choose to believe in the wisdom of our rabbis, and good people do exist! Look around you! There are many remarkable people who are good, and who do great things for others.
Each of us can be the positive change we seek for ourselves, our families and communities. My challenge is to begin at home, and for us, at Hillel. No matter how we view ourselves, and our children, there is always room for character improvement. I struggle with this all of the time. My most important value, and personal goal, is to be a good person. My wife and I hope and expect the same from our children. That has always been our principal message to our children. I firmly believe that we are on this earth for a purpose, and that purpose begins with how we treat each other, and the commitments we make to others.
It seems so easy to do the right thing, and yet, human behavior is quite complex. It takes mindfulness, and discipline, to refrain from gossip. It actually does require inner strength to remain calm and respectful when speaking with those with whom we disagree. It takes a degree of selflessness to be able to put ourselves in another person’s shoe, and not rush to judgment. And it takes effort to help others! Being a good person requires intentionality; it is not instinctive. We don’t often recognize that, but our tradition always has, and if we are honest with ourselves, as I so deeply try to be, we recognize that we often fall short. The awesome thing is we always have the opportunity to do better the next time. Another wisdom-laden value of our tradition is that each day we get to start fresh, and become a better version of ourselves.
So the challenge is as simple as it is profound. We change our school community, the larger community, and ultimately the world, one person at a time, by attending to our character and our responsibility not only to ourselves, but to others as well. Indeed, this is a central component of Hillel’s mission – “To inspire a passion for learning, responsibility to self and community…” We, the adults, must learn to accept responsibility for our own actions and choices, and we must teach our children the same.
So here’s a question for all of us: How do we translate this challenge into positive action for ourselves and our children? I welcome your thoughts and comments.