Well, I guess it’s time to write again. It’s been a while, the High Holy Days and fall schedule got the better of my time but, for now, B’s Blog is back.
Look, you want to save Judaism, you want to convey to your kids a compelling reason to go to college, you want to convince someone of your political beliefs, you want to communicate effectively about anything – then, above all else, you need clarity.
Too often we think we understand what we believe until it comes time to explain it. And then, when the time comes to make the case, it comes out muddled, confused and we realize we hardly know what we are talking about. If you want to influence, lead or inspire anyone in this lifetime you are going to have to communicate; communicate effectively and communicate clearly.
In last week’s Torah portion we have Noah and his infamous ark. And though this is read as a fairy tale, as all the stories in Genesis it is actually a deep teaching on human nature and communication. Noah is actually charged not with one mission but two. According to the rabbinic tradition, in addition to building the ark he is also supposed to go out and recruit passengers for the maiden voyage, “win friends and influence people”, spreading the message that there is a better way and that way begins with “getting on the boat”. And though Noah succeeds in building a boat he fails, fails miserably in his career as a missions director running the worst recruitment campaign in history – he convinces no one, save his family and bunch of animals, to board the boat. Noah may have been righteous, perhaps even brilliant, but proves himself to be perhaps the worst preacher in history and that’s no small feat.
Why is he such a poor spokesman? Who knows? I wasn’t there but I have been exposed to enough rabbis, ministers and priests in my own day that I imagine he was long winded, uninspired and frankly boring. He might have been right, but it takes a heck of a lot more to engage people and inspire them in a different direction than being right. Yes, the facts are important but equally as important as what is being said is how it is said.
Contrast Noah to the great Rabbi Hillel of the First century. The following is recorded in the Talmud:
Once there was a gentile who came before Hillel, and said to him: Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot…. Hillel converted him, saying: “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow man, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.”
There it is. Five Books of the Torah later, hundreds and thousands of pages of Talmud written and yet Hillel boiled down Judaism, in his estimation to one sentence. While “standing on one foot” he made the case. Can you?
While standing on one foot – Can you articulate Judaism or your religion and religious beliefs?
While standing on one foot – Can you convey your political views?
While standing on one foot – Can you communicate to your children what is expected from them in this lifetime?
If not, why not? And how are you going to do it and, in another of Hillel’s famous maxims, “if not now, when”?
As my teacher, Rabbi Ed Feinstein said to me in a homiletics class: “If you can’t say it [your sermon] in one sentence – you can’t say it period.”
It’s time to get clear and concise in our messages of Judaism.
It’s time for clarity in our religion.
It’s time for articulate, compelling reasoning in our personal lives.
It’s time to figure out what we believe, to boil it down to a single idea and say it loudly and proudly while standing on one foot.