Thursday, October 20, 2022

In This Moment: And God Said, "Let US Make Humans"

The Shabbat-O-Gram is sponsored

by Leslie and David Napach in honor of their son, Aaron,

becoming a Bar Mitzvah.

In This Moment

Above: As the Jewish holiday season concludes,

we are greeted by a glorious, blazing October not-so-surprise.

Below, Kesher students learn the fine art of lulav shaking during Sukkot.

Shabbat Shalom!

With the holidays at long last behind us, let the B'nai Mitzvah begin! Mazal tov to Aaron Napach as he becomes Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat. We return to the beginning of the Torah and the portion of Beresheet. A reminder that those looking for my recent High Holidays sermons, text and video, can find Rosh Hashanah's here and Yom Kippur's here. Several have also mentioned seeing some interviews I did on JBS TV with Rabbi Mark Golub, which were recently replayed on air. They can be found here. 

Next Tuesday, Cantor Kaplan begins a series exploring how and why various melodies, liturgical modes known as nusach, are integrated into our service. She gave me a sneak preview and I can not recommend it more highly. Anyone interested in the subtleties of Jewish prayer should attend this virtual class (a recording will also be made, in case you can't hear it live). Below is one of the slides from her presentation, lending a keen insight about the ways that the music attunes us to the particular time when that service is being recited. I had never heard it put quite this way before.

Enjoy the fine fall weather!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman 

Why Does God Say, "Let US Make the Human"

One of the great puzzles of the Creation story is when God states in Gen. 1:26, "Na'aseh Adam," "Let us make the human being." Who exactly is God talking to here? Other gods? Angels? Nature? Godself? Each possibility offers significant theological complications as well as midrashic possibilities. Christians see this as proof of the Trinity. Partly because of that, many rabbinic commentators rejected suggestions of God's consulting multiple deities as heretical. The commentator Ibn Ezra suggests that it was just a matter of God using the royal plural, that when humans were actually created the singular verb was used. 

Taking another tack, Nachmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman) propses that God was referring to the earth from which humans were actually formed. As we see in the next chapter (2:7), "And the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and God breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and the human became a living soul." The idea of planet as partner seems especially relevant in our Climate Change challenged era, and less problematic theologically. 

But others buy into the idea that, while God didn't have to consult with others, for this new project, the pinnacle of creation, collaboration was precisely what was called for. This was the ultimate teachable moment: the entire human race was watching. God wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to instruct us how good it is to work together.

There are some who say that the partner God was collaborating with was not a celestial being at all, but the human being themself. The Baal Shem Tov indicates that with this gesture, God is letting humanity know that we are God's co-collaborators in creating ourselves. This interpretation informs us that we can't pin the blame on God for having created us with certain inclinations or temptations, but must take responsibility for our own behaviors.  

Ultimately, I subscribe to the teachable moment theory.  it is less about who God is consulting with than the simple fact of partnering.  Dr William Muir discovered this when he bred a group of super-chickens at Purdue. The experiment is described in the Ted talk video below. 

Essentially, As author/entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan describes it, Muir found one flock that was fairly productive and just left it alone for six generations, letting chickens do what chickens do. And then he created another flock, which was constructed of the individually most productive chickens that he could find. After six generations of chickens, Muir took his first flock of average, good old worker chickens and then he looked at the second flock of chickens - the super chickens flock. And he compared how many eggs each flock had laid. And what he found at the end of the experiment amazed him: the average flock was doing very well. They were all really plump, fully feathered, very healthy and, importantly, they were more productive than ever. And the other flock - the superflock - all but three were dead.

Muir's chicken experiment has become legendary among social scientists because it's a window into human behavior and the way we work and a lesson on how we could do it better. 

Here's what Margaret Heffernan says to interviewer Guy Raz about Muir's chickens and her Ted talk:

And then the super chickens all kill each other to get into Harvard or Yale, right? And then they kill each other to get into Harvard Law or Harvard Business, blah, blah, blah. And by the time they get into work, they have been taught that their success must depend on the failure of others. And so you have, then, performance management systems, which are about identifying the high potentials, right, which is management speak now for gifted and talented. You have evaluation systems, like forced ranking, which say, well, we're really going to promote the top 10 percent. And so, again, they're still in the system that's familiar to them, which is your success is contingent upon making the people around you less successful than you are.

RAZ: I mean, the irony is that this kind of system that is sort of the model, it does not lead to more productivity.

HEFFERNAN: No, it doesn't lead to more productivity. In fact, it leads to, I think, a catastrophic loss of productivity and creativity. But there's this belief that the only way you can make people successful is to make work a fight to the death. And then they scratch their heads thinking, well, we've done that and it doesn't work. Let's make the stakes higher. Let's introduce some money into this game. And, of course, it gets more vicious, still.

RAZ: Money might make you work harder, but it might not make you work better with other people because to do that, Margaret says, you have to build something called social capital. You can think of it as trust.

HEFFERNAN: Social capital is what gives companies momentum. And social capital is what makes companies robust. What does this mean in practical terms? It means that time is everything because social capital compounds with time. So teams that work together longer get better because it takes time to develop the trust you need for real candor and openness. And time is what builds value.

The lesson of Genesis 1:26: Teamwork beats talent every time. Just ask God. Just ask the chickens.

Recommended Reading

  • Israeli headline of the week: On top of the front page shown below, "Rejoice and be glad" - a traditional greeting for Simhat Torah, featuring school children from Ein Ha-Emek in the Jezreel Valley. On the bottom, "Death of a Giant" reports on the passing of Robbie Coltrane, who played Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies.
  • What Is A Hamsa? (MJL) - Even as scholars debate nearly every aspect of its emergence, the hamsa is recognized as a kabbalistic amulet and as an important symbol in Jewish art.

  • How Many Forms Of Antisemitism Can Trump Cram Into One Truth Social Post? Let’s Count. (TPM) - Donald Trump used his Truth Social account to assure his audience that he would not be outdone in the current alarming escalation in antisemitic rhetoric on the American right. It is impossible not to read “have to get their act together” as a threat, particularly with his addition of the phrase “Before it is too late!” at the end. The threat is susceptible to multiple meanings — probably intentionally — and none of them are good. One interpretation is theological, a topic on which Trump is notoriously illiterate, although he’s likely spent enough time around evangelicals to know they believe they have an imperative to convert Jews to Christianity. They seek converts now, because you never know when Jesus is actually coming back, and you want to be saved already when it happens. The evangelicals who await Jesus’s return at the battle of Armageddon envision it as an event during which Jews will be forced to accept Christ, or perish in a lake of brimstone. “Before it is too late!” has a very particular meaning here. Another interpretation is purely political. Trump demands loyalty, and he gets it from an overwhelming majority of white evangelicals, but only a tiny minority of Jews. In this interpretation, Trump is angry not to see Jews at bended knee. Jews’ supposed failure to “appreciate what they have in Israel” is actually a failure to appreciate that Trump has done heroic things for Israel. Those things, which include tearing up the Iran nuclear deal and moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, are valued by evangelicals, but not so much by American Jews. Trump, then, rather than seeking Jewish support through other means or gestures, uses it as a bludgeon against them — which is itself antisemitic. As the historian Federico Finchelstein noted on Twitter about Trump’s post, “This is an old concern in the history of antisemitism. For antisemites, Jews do not appreciate the leader’s power/refuse to believe in the leader’s cult, etc & thus undermine him.”

LinkedInShare This Email
Temple Beth El
350 Roxbury Road
Stamford, Connecticut 06902
203-322-6901 |
A Conservative, Inclusive, Spiritual Community

No comments: