Parsha Yitro Dedicated to outgoing Kneseth Israel President Lore Singerman January 22, 2011 17 Shevat 5771 Rabbi Dr. Moshe P. Weisblum
Shabbat shalom everyone and welcome to all of our guests,
Today we are celebrating with Drs. Barnett and Francine Rattner as they welcome their son Alexander and his fiancé' visiting Annapolis from Atlanta for the first time since announcing their engagement. We are very excited to meet and welcome the future Chatan (Groom) and Kallah(Bride) for the first time, as many of us remember Alex as a 6-year old Aleph Bet student. Warm mazal tov to both machutanim (families) and we are looking forward to dance at the wedding. May you both have a yiddisheh naces from them and with help of Hashem their future generation. Amen.
We also say thank you to our outgoing President Lore Singerman for many years of dedication to Kneseth Israel and we welcome Jody Goldsmith, our incoming new President. When the reins of leadership are transferred from one person to another, there is a famous saying: "It may be hard for the new person to walk in the shoes of the predecessor. Basically, it’s hard to walk in someone else’s shoes. Well… the fact is: Lore’s shoe are size 8 and Jody’s shoe are size 13… so, I don’t think we will have this problem here…and I bless you both: Lore wearing your size 8 shoes and Jody wearing your size 13 shoes - to always walk and be comfortable in your own shoes and walk in the way of G-d.
We learned in this week’s Torah portion a lot about effective leadership and communication which I would like to share with you today. Yitro, the elderly father-in-law of Moses, taught Moses and all of us today in 2011 how we can become skilled in the art of effective communication and time management. We discovered through the biblical Yitro what every toastmaster speech expert knows: it’s all in the presentation, presentation and presentation.
We also read the Exodus saga of how the Israelites were led toward the promised land of Israel. Particularly of interest, close to the final phase of Moses’s mission, he eloquently delivered one of the most moving orations in the Torah: The Ten Commandments. Moses encouraged the Jewish nation to overcome difficulties and guided them wisely to choose a better future.
So, why am I so excited about this week's Torah portion? Why does Parshat Yitro speak to me and hopefully to you as well? While it is true that we can always find something relevant to our lives within each week’s Torah portion, this time, I have a particular soft-spot in my heart. Yitro is Moshe's father-in-law. Yitro is older, and therefore, by virtue of his life experiences, he is a repository of wisdom. Yitro must carefully balance just how much of his worldly wisdom he should impart to Moshe versus how much Moshe must learn on his own. While trying to protect our children from harm, we also know that some lessons are only learned through experiences. Parents and grandparents are usually walking on eggs in a balancing act, measuring how much advice to give out and when silence is golden; when our input is appreciated and when it is not. Here is where Yitro and I have a meeting of the minds.
Yitro has a heart-to-heart talk with his son-in-law, Moshe. After Moshe tells him about all the great wonders that G-d performed in the desert, and all his responsibilities of leadership, Yitro sees that Moshe is overwhelmed, exhausted, overworked and carrying the weight of the Jewish world on his shoulders. As we might describe him today, he was "burned out." Yitro is a practical and intelligent man who recognizes that one man cannot possibly "do it all." After all, he wants the best for Moshe, the husband of his daughter Tzipporah. He wants Moshe to preserve his health, and live to a ripe old age, so they can live happily ever after. Therefore, he counsels Moshe, carefully and tactfully, without stepping on his toes – about the importance of delegating authority and teamwork. Yitro lays it on the line "The thing you are doing is not right. You will surely wear yourself out...Now listen to me. I will give you counsel and G-d be with you....and you shall enjoin upon them the laws and the teaching and make known to them the way they are to go..." (Exodus 18: 17-20). In other words, he tells Moshe, leadership is not about doing everything, it’s about seeing that everything gets done! Yitro convinces Moshe that by appointing other senior leaders and spreading out the responsibility, with Moshe at the helm, life will be more balanced and tolerable for him. It will be a win-win situation.
As we learn each week, the lessons of our 3,319 year old Torah are as relevant today as they were in the time of Moshe. We live in a complex world, managing home, business, community, synagogue, family, relatives and friends. The list is endless. It’s a world filled with multitasking. No wonder there are no shortages of social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, financial experts, life coaches and so on to help people. It’s beneficial to do a personal inventory and soul search: Where in your life are you? What are your pressures? Which areas are too taxing for you to handle? What causes you to have interrupted sleep, waking up at 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning, twisting and turning until it’s almost time to rise for the day? Is your heart pulsing too quickly or is it that pounding headache that keeps emptying the bottle of Advil in your medicine cabinet? This week’s Parsha speaks to everyone and anyone who is overwhelmed, stressed out and on their way to burning out. Can you relate?
High mortgage. College tuition. A demanding boss. Costly bills. Car repairs. Medical expenses. Caring for elderly parents or very young children, or maybe needing to help out with the grandchildren. People depend on you, expect things from you. The list is endless and growing. What do you do?
Yitro, perhaps one of the earliest life coaches in history, pleads for Moshe to seek out help. He suggests that he build up a team of 120 leaders from the various tribes who could serve as his assistants and partners. The men chosen would be intelligent, responsible, experienced, honest, and caring with a proven track record of accomplishments among their communities and families. He says that Moshe should surround himself with loyal and capable people who understand the mission and whose goals are the same as his. Yitro serves as the brilliant strategist instructing Moshe to identify the issues and how to deal with them.
With any leadership role there comes awesome responsibility. One of the responsibilities your Rabbi had this week was to react to the numerous emails I received the day before yesterday. People asked for my opinion regarding Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee on the House floor Tuesday night comparing Republican claims about the healthcare reform law to lies perpetrated by the Nazis that led to the Holocaust. So OK. Here is my lucid response:
It is outrageous and offensive for anyone in any way to compare the functioning of American politics and political debate to the Nazis and the Holocaust. It is completely inappropriate to even attempt to imply such a relationship.
So it was hard on me but I said it. You see, friends, with any leadership role there comes awesome responsibility. Whether you are the head of a family, an executive, a business owner, an educator, a health care professional, the leader of a congregation or the president of a board, you are held accountable by others. Sometimes the pressure is enormous and may take its toll on your physical and emotional well-being. When others depend on us we are not always free to do what we please when we want. Responsible, mature, predictable, conforming, and conscientious traits are important when we are in a leadership position.
Sometimes you need to look at yourself in the mirror. Who are you today? Where are you in your life? To whom are you responsible? Yourself? Others? What does your to-do list look like? Do you carry a smart phone to keep track of your tasks and your appointments? How do you maintain control? How do you face the day, get organized and move forward?
We read in the book of Psalms 121:1-2, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains: from where shall my help come? My help comes from the L-d, maker of heaven and earth." Listen to the words of Yitro. When the pressure cooker is about to burst, you have to let the steam out. Build up your team. Take a breath and figure out realistically who you can rely on to help you. Surround yourself with people who share your goals and are like-minded in terms of values and ethics. Be with people who stand behind their words. People who care about you will work to make you look good. Moshe was able to handle the big problems because his board of advisors was willing to help him get the job done.
The Torah teaches that communication is the key to understanding both oneself and one's purpose in the world. Speaking with another about our pain and suffering or dreams and joys is comforting and healing. When Yitro and Moshe talk to each other, they communicate concerns of both a personal and a societal nature. And we see how this dialogue benefits both Yitro and Moses and all of our people. Proverbs 12:25 states, "The heart of a person filled with anxiety is dejected, yet a good word brings it to a state of joy."
It is said, "A friendship is one of the nicest gifts you can give yourself." So today, we thank our good friends, the outgoing Kneseth Israel President, Lore Singerman, and her husband, Mark. It is well-known saying: Behind every great woman is a strong man. In this case, we express gratitude to Mark and Lore for their steadfast commitment to our synagogue. As Rabbi Shlomo ben Yehudah, one of my favorite poets and philosophers who lived in Spain in 1484, wrote in his ethical work entitledMichavan Hapenim, (Choice of Pearls), "There is no treasure like friends." Yes, in the name of friendship may we merit celebrating many simchas together!
Well, on a personal level, since in many ways Lore functions as one of my Jewish mothers here in Annapolis, there is a famous joke called: "A recording from a Jewish Mother's Answering Machine." It goes like this: If you want chicken soup, press 1; If you want matzoh balls with the soup, press 2; If you want kasha varnishkas, press 3; If you want knishes press 4; If you want to know how I am feeling, you are calling the wrong number since nobody ever asks me how I am feeling."
It is important at this time to pay special tribute to the selfless accomplishments of Lore Singerman. She is one of the most dedicated members in the 104 year history of Congregation Kneseth Israel. At this time, I would like to dedicate to Lore a song which I wrote 17 years ago. It’s called: Heaven Calling Earth
Lore has been a multi-term president of our congregation, and was responsible for many important improvements and generous gifts to the synagogue. It has been her labor of love. Lore often reminds us that she loves our Kneseth Israel synagogue, a place close to her heart, her spiritual home. What is love? There are many different levels of love: between man and a woman, parents and children, two friends, siblings, relatives, even between a person and a pet. The common ground is that love connects at least two entities. Love brings peace and hope to the world and builds communities. A person who finds love in his or her heart to serve the community is truly blessed.
Among many values I have learned from Lore is that we shall continue to use every opportunity to find something positive in the world around us. Even when things appear to be tenuous and unstable, we make up our minds to remain strong, to find the common thread weaving our lives together. No matter what befalls us, we have faith in G-d, in ourselves and our community. There is love here. A person with deep faith allows himself or herself to laugh and stay positive and smile in the midst of all our challenges. Why? Because that person enjoys life; in other words, existence itself has meaning. There is a certain power that comes from living with joy, enough power and strength to cope with life’s ups and downs. Proverbs 14:13 says, "In laughter and simcha, the pain of the heart is eased."
When you face life’s challenges, or when the past tries to dominate your thoughts, let your dreams ignite your day. Mark Twain wrote, "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the things you did do." Hopefully, regrets will be few if we seize the opportunities that are doable. As Art Linkletter, the famous radio and TV personality once said, "Things turn out the best for people who make the best out the way things turn out." Samuel Goldwyn, a film producer, once said "When someone does something good, applaud! You will make two people happy."
Lore, we know you are a woman of high ethics and principled fairness. Our congregation is something we can be proud of because of your work. In the face of many challenges, you have succeeded. As we reflect on the meaning of your dedication and service, I am reminded of the words of a great leader of our congregation, Lore Singerman: "Active participation, whether by attending, contributing time, money or energy, is a fun way to take your role in synagogue and Jewish life. Even as little as an hour a week of community service, or as much as an hour a day, will reap great rewards. Benefits include expanding your friendships, being role models for your children and grandchildren, working together for a common cause - and of course, sharing a laugh with someone else." The Talmud states, "One who shares the community’s anguish will merit experiencing the community’s redemption." Together, may we continue to honor G-d by remembering our past and ensuring our future L’dor Vador. Here we witness daily the chain of love we have built over the past years. With a foundation of Torah values and love of Judaism hopefully with G-d’s help we will be able to build a greater and brighter tomorrow right here in Annapolis.
May happiness touch your life today as warmly as you and Mark have touched the lives of others.Bracha Vehatzlacha. Amen.