Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Jewish Value for Fat Tuesday - Tuesday Kavvanah, 2/21/2012

Our Director of the Hebrew High School and Teen Engagement, Danny Mishkin, is in New Orleans and Biloxi, Mississippi this week with 36 teens from Temple Israel (and more from other local congregations) on a community service mission to help communities that are still rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina.  Danny uses every opportunity that he can to help inculcate our teens with Jewish values, and in speaking with him yesterday, I asked him to identify those values that he places at the top of the list.

"I want them to consider that their wants do not necessarily outweigh the needs of others," he said, and cited the words of the first-century BCE sage Hillel from Pirqei Avot:

הוא היה אומר, אם אין אני לי, מי לי; וכשאני לעצמי, מה אני; ואם לא עכשיו, אימתיי
He used to say, "If I am not for me, who will be?  If I am for myself alone, what am I?  And if not now, when?" (Avot 1:14)
In other words, sometimes we hold a narrow view of the world, one in which our desires seem the most important, to the detriment of others.  Hillel's suggestion is that while we must take care of ourselves, we also cannot lose sight of those around us.

Our hope is that the teens participating in this trip, where they will be rolling up their sleeves and contributing  physical labor in an effort to repair the Gulf Coast and, writ large, the world, will not only help people in need, but will also gain unparalleled insight into a key Jewish value that they will carry with them into adulthood.  On Mardi Gras, when Louisiana parties with abandon, this is an all-the-more-essential lesson.  I look forward to hearing their stories when they return.

Rabbi Seth Adelson

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