When I was a teenager preparing for my bat mitzvah, I decided to learn how to lay tefillin. Saying “yes” to tefillin wasn’t like saying yes to dessert or yes to a new pair of shoes, it was actually pushing me to fulfill a promise for my adult Jewish life. This week's Torah portion reminds us that the promises we make are meant to be kept.
Last week’s Oasis Songs was dedicated to the ancient Jewish custom of expanding community by setting up an eiruv, a Jewish boundary that extends the distance one can travel on Shabbat. Let’s continue reflecting on this custom.
A few years ago I was introduced to novelist Chimamanda Adichie through a TED Talk in which she cautions against limiting our exposure of the world to the "single story." In a time when misinformation and falsehoods are easier than ever to spread, Parshat Shoftim reminds us that single stories aren’t the whole story.
According to the Bible, one is supposed to stay close to home over Shabbat. It was a great rule in ancient times because it ensured strong family and communal ties. Anyone who has ever fought rush-hour traffic gets why such a rule is important. As Jewish towns and neighborhoods expanded, however, the Torah’s law made it more difficult to create meaningful community—the exact opposite of its original mandate.
So often in our lives we get stuck on the why. Like a broken record, we’re unable to move past a certain point unless we get the explanation we think we deserve. However, Judaism is a tradition of action, of involving all our senses, not just our critical thinking.
There was a moment in Silicon Valley history when entrepreneurs starting new enterprises had difficulty attracting venture capital dollars if they hadn’t already had at least one start-up failure under their belt. The mantra that developed was “fail fast, fail often.” The courageous contrarianism conveyed in this statement is a potent reminder that in life, failure is unavoidable and can sometimes produce new insights. Failure, in other words, can often be the fertile soil on which future growth depends.
We want to pass down only our best qualities, whether it’s older sibling to younger sibling, parent to child, or grandparent to grandchild. However, sometimes it’s not necessarily the “best” qualities that are the most important, but the ones that best serve us.