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Dear Friends,

In the small section of the Talmud known as Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of Our Fathers, we find the following teaching:

“Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Perachya says, ‘Make for yourself a teacher and acquire for yourself a friend, and judge each person favorably.” (Pirke Avot Chapter 1, Mishna 6)

The fact that the first two-thirds of this teaching are quoted so frequently speaks to the power and beauty of this statement. But it is the last third that stood out as I studied this text earlier this week. Why, I wondered, would a teaching that speaks to the power and importance of turning to others for knowledge and companionship end with a statement about receiving others with a positive disposition? Why would it instruct us to judge others “favorably”?

Perhaps Rabbi Yehoshuah understood that it is only human for us to quickly draw conclusions about others. Sometimes we realize we are doing so, but more often than not such judgements are unconscious. Regardless, when we approach others with forgone conclusions about who they are or what they believe we close down the possibility of connection. Moreover, when we start from a position of judgement, we lose the opportunity to learn from the rich, varied perspectives of others, perspectives that can challenge us to reassess and refine our own positions and thinking.

Rabbi Yehoshuah reminds us that our openness to others is the prerequisite to anyone becoming a friend or a teacher. The best friends and teachers aren’t those with whom we always agree; rather they are those whose perspectives differ from ours but with whom there is a strong, mutual respect.

How boring and stagnant life would be if we all shared exactly the same perspective. How rich our lives are when we listen to others with love and respect and they do the same to us.

Last week some of our graduating seniors became our teachers. Their words were powerful, inspiring and at times challenging. I invite you to take a few minutes this weekend to listen to them and allow these remarkable young adults to become your teachers.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel Cohen

Shammai used to say: make your study of the Torah a fixed practice; speak little, but do much; and receive all men with a pleasant countenance. (Pirke Avot 1:15)

Cantor Moses:

Baxter the Pig Who Wanted to be Kosher by Laurel Snyder and David Goldin

We’ve really focused on some great books for the adults in our community, but I would hate to miss sharing one of my favorite Jewish children’s books! I love the bright illustrations and the sweet message of community and welcome. While waiting for the bus, a man tells Baxter the pig about the joys of Shabbat dinner. But before Baxter can find out how he, too, can join in the fun, the man has boarded the bus. Soon after, Baxter learns that he cannot be a part of Shabbat dinner because he’s not Kosher. So begins one pig’s misguided quest to become Kosher. Will Baxter succeed or will his dreams of taking part in Shabbat dinner remain unfulfilled?

Rabbi Klein:

No One Will Tell You This But Me: A True (as told to me) Story by Bess Kalb

This beautiful book is an homage to Kalb’s grandmother, told through voicemails, emails, and conversations over the years. The stories of Bobbe, Kalb’s beloved late grandmother, tell of a beautiful relationship between two women and their relationship to one another and to the many generations of Jewish women that came before them. I read this book a few years after losing both of my grandmothers, and so much of what Kalb shares in this book resonated with me. I finished the book with tears in my eyes and a very full heart.


Talking to God – Personal Prayers for Times of Joy, Sadness, Struggle and Celebration by Rabbi Naomi Levy

Rabbi Levy is one of the most inspiring spiritual teachers of this generation. I find her original prayers, poems and insights to be both learned and moving. In this book, Rabbi Levy draws upon  her own personal life experiences as well as her rabbinic interactions with community members and shares powerful words that speak to the beauty and wonder of life. Addressing the full depth and breadth of life, there is a prayer or meditation for most every experience we encounter. Talking to God is one of those books I turn to time and time again when encountering life moments to which I want to give voice.