Links in the chain
הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה.
He used to say: It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.
Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers 2:16)
I often find myself in the position of bringing a big-picture perspective to decisions, conflicts, and a variety of problem-solving processes and scenarios. That is part of leadership, and I tend to enjoy taking a wide view more than getting lost in the details. The details matter, though, and if they are not taken into account, then big-picture perspective can end up in the clouds, floating far from practical reality. In this, as in many things, striking a healthy balance is crucial, and that balance shifts with each issue and conversation. People are endlessly fascinating.
One of the key roles Gesher plays in our community is in transmitting key elements of an ancient way of living to individuals and families in a modern age. We are always aware of this second balance between tradition and innovation, and in fact the entire history of Judaism is a broad tapestry illustrating the interactions between Jews and our neighbors, often resulting in adaption of Jewish practice. The core of the religion remains, while the details shift over the course of generations. This is one reason we are so committed to our mission – as the quote reads above: we are not the end-point in this work, but we do not consider ourselves exempt from it.
This is true for the parent of any Jewish child. It is an obligation and an opportunity to engage in the vast history of this people and to see ourselves as links in an ongoing chain. There is so much to be gained from this engagement that I could spend hours writing about it, but the core for me is the idea that our tradition and wisdom offers each of us a path to live meaningfully. That means spending our time on the earth improving it by finding fulfillment in relationships, community, building and growth. That’s much harder than coasting, which is why this kind of quote is so important. It offers the sense of perspective that we sometimes need when we feel stuck or bogged down – we can lift our heads, look around, and realize that while our own piece is crucial, it is not the whole story.
To bring us back to my first point — this is the skill that is required for productive dialogue and solving problems. To both engage wholeheartedly in the details, and to also keep looking up in order maintain a clear sense of the big picture and the world of options that are often available. This quote is a keeper.
This Shabbat, I encourage you to speak to your children about what it feels like to get stuck in the weeds. Share an example of a time when that happened to you, and the strategies you like to use to get back to a sense of perspective. Ask your children if they can think of times when a problem seemed really big at first, and then later they saw how small it really was.