Charter for Compassion

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Gifts and disabilities, they seem pretty random, not deserved or earned. It is how we respond to them that matters.

The following arose in part out of a facebook comment I had from a friend, Charles Reynes. Charles is National Science Teacher of the Year. Hopefully, he will meet President Obama when he goes to Washington D.C. in January for a week of activities in connection with his achievement, a blessing well deserved. But I digress, last night I posted:
Gifts and disabilities, they seem pretty random, not deserved or earned. It is how we respond to them that matters.
Charles responded:
When I first became a teacher, I had a principal who focused her attention on my deficiencies, which were numerous. She moved on. The next principal saw my weaknesses, I'm sure, but rather than trying to make me conform, she encouraged me to be innovative, to take risks.

Disabilities are often much easier to spot than gifts, in ourselves and others. We can squander a lifetime trying to become something we're not, to remediate or compensate for our disabilities. On the other hand, when we focus on our gifts, we become so brilliant that our disabilities seem to fade away.

As I heard Mister Rogers say one morning when my kids were small, "Look for what others can do, and when you find it, appreciate it." My life is so much better for the people who saw in me what I had yet to see in myself.

This is one reason you are such a great teacher, Todd. You are able to see what people can do. (Hey, I included this last paragraph not for reasons of vanity, but because it helped me see connections)

Charles' comments are a gift in themselves. As a fellow educator, I appreciate his constant effort to reflect on his own experiences in education. But I also appreciate his comments for more deeply allowing me to ponder even more and draw other connections. He took my thinking to another place, which is why I like talking with Charles so much. He has that gift for lifting thoughts, which is why I think he is a great teacher.

My original comment was generated last night after the Rabbi asked us to ponder why in Genesis 27:32, Jacob is tricking his father by pretending to be Esau in order to gain his father's blessing which "rightfully" belongs to Esau, and then in Genesis 28, Jacob is being blessed by God. Clearly, God can't be endorsing deception as the path to blessing. There are many possible explanations, and Rabbis of the past have not all agreed on one interpretation. My own explanation was that maybe God doesn't play the reward and punishment game; after all, the foremost patriarch, Abraham, also engaged in what appears as despicable behavior (when he went to Egypt for example and claimed that Sara was his sister, so that no harm would come to himself 12:11-). He too was blessed, with progeny (as many as the stars, and to become a father to many nations). I admit the idea that God doesn't engage in reward and punishment is somewhat tenuous given the tenor of some parts of Torah. On the other hand, I find the Torah to contains so much for so many. I take comfort in Rabbi Lawrence Kushner who said both, "If you try to make it all work together, you will 'crash and burn.'" and, "my choice is reverence".

At any rate, I found myself blurting out that gifts and disabilities seem pretty random, as part of my reasoning. For those who take a "God is all controlling view", I think this looks like a heretical claim for a believer. But in life, as in Torah, blessings do seem random, and the sufferings (for example in the case of Job), undeserved. Still, in our arguing with God (Genesis 18:25 Abraham: "The judge of all the earth-will he not do what is just?) and in our wrestling (Genesis 32:21-33 Jacob wrestling with the man/G_d on the verge of seeing his brother again.), God seems to learn and teach with us, granting us the blessing to see blessings. It may not be the only lesson, but it is a good one to take away from Torah. As Charles added later: "It's both a blessing to ourselves and to others when we are able to see blessings."

Which brings me back to my Rabbi, Rabbi Suzy Stone. I laugh as I consider that she changed around some of our local ritual (minhag) last night, so as to talk about what we are thankful for, on this, the last shabbat before a secular holiday, Thanksgiving. She then proceeded to go on about Jacob as if there was no necessary connection. I feel like I am in the presence of a Jewish Zen master when things like this happen. ... As I approach Thanksgiving, I am thankful for good friends like Charles, Rabbis like Suzy, my children, my students, Marshall School, and Shir Ami, you all inspire my thinking, hopefully my actions, and are in so many ways, such a blessing.

No comments:

Post a Comment