Being Better People
Mark your calendars for next weekend's Scholar in Residence appearance - see details here.The topic, "Being Better People" is certainly one that is relevant to all of us. Using the tools of "Mussar," a force for Jewish renewal and self improvement, we can learn how to cultivate character traits like patience, honesty, humility and cheerfulness. Rabbi Ira Stone will speak three times during Shabbat, including a cozy Havdalah program on Saturday evening, and he'll lead a workshop on Sunday morning as well.
Another can't miss event we have coming up is the Interfaith Seder on March 29. Join us as we host congregants and clergy from diverse faiths, as we discuss the impact of the impact of the Exodus story and the Passover ritual on our lives a on our lives and on the world. Read all the details here.
The Gordon Gekko Haggadah
Speaking of "Being Better People," the business world is abuzz this week about the New York Times op-ed by former Goldman Sachs employee Greg Smith, who bemoaned a continuing culture of greed, where the client is a tool to be shaken down rather than a valued customer, and where the almighty buck still reigns supreme. "It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off," he wrote.
I don't know the particulars of Greg Smith's case or the goings on at Goldman, but his indictment of the culture is one all of us should take seriously. It is so easy to slide back into bad habits. We focus on teshuvah during the High Holiday season, but that isn't enough. Things happen over the course of a year to dilute the impact of that intense self-scrutiny. That's why Judaism presents us with a chance for a mid-course correction: Passover, which occurs precisely half way through the Jewish year. We deflate our egos by flattening our diet.
Hamatz is often associated with idolatry, the worship the tangible and finite, the adulation of fame and fortune, the exaltation of the ego. A verse in last week's portion makes the connection between leaven and idolatry explictly clear: "Do not make molten idols; observe the holiday of matzot." (Exodus 34:17-18). Matzah is God-food. It is food for thought, sustenance for the spirit.
As Rabbi Jill Jacobs writes, "Hametz represents an attachment to what is-to the world as it appears to our five senses. Those stuck in the world of hametz may find themselves drawn to idol worship-that is, the assumption that the world as we see it is all that is possible. Matzah, on the other hand, represents the ability to imagine a world beyond the tangible one."
We've not yet even climbed out of the mess of 2008 yet in many offices, it's business as usual. It's as if 2008 never happened. Are we doomed to have to bear endless cycles of corruption leading to even greater meltdowns? I hope not. We've learned so many harsh lessons over the past several years; one would think something would have sunk in.
There are 4,000 haggadahs in print, but one more desperately needs to be written: a haggadah where the part of Pharaoh is played by Gordon Gekko. The liberation we pray for and work toward is not merely one from external oppression - but a liberation from our own greed.
I'd like to encourage a continuing conversation on this matter, and I'm willing to meet you onyour turf in order to do it. If the people in your office are interested in a seminar on Jewish business ethics, I'll be there. Wherever you work, in Stamford, Manhattan, Bangalore or the Canary Islands (I'd especially like that), I'll be happy to teach. One session or a series. This is really not about Greg Smith and Goldman Sachs. It's about the integrity of our economy and the sustenance of our national soul.
See my extensive Passover Guides and Seder Supplements
-- Click here for the downloadable 2012 Rabbinical Assembly Passover Guide.
-- Click here for my "Passover Preparations Guide to the Perplexed"
-- And here for the 2012 Sale of Hametz form
-- And here for Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner's Seder supplement chock full of those silly songs and explanations everyone loves.
And while our Purim memories are still fresh, check out our photos from the service and carnival.