Sunday, October 22, 2017

Parashat No-ah

October 21, 2017

This week we read the story of the flood and how Noah and his family were selected the save the world. The week's parasha is a sharp contrast to last week. Last week we read about the creation of the world; this week is about the destruction of the world. The parasha is a testament to the nature of free choice. When God created the world put people in charge, and gave mankind the ability of free choice, some messed up. God selected Noah and his family to save before he destroyed the earth. The generation of Noah didn’t practice the laws of justice such as don’t steal that are required for a society to prosper. When people work together all have the potential to prosper. When they waste time arguing, fighting, and not respecting each other’s space, no one wins.

One thought is that Noah must have been an extraordinary person who despite the idolatry, corruption, and moral depravity, Noah remained a righteous individual. A second thought is that he was only relatively righteous and choose to avoid everyone on their corruption.

This debate as to whether Noah was absolutely righteous or relatively righteous is old. But there is no debate as to his leadership skills. He was not a teacher or leader for anyone but his family. There is no Torah text saying anything about leading or guiding people to a more righteous life. As far as we know, Noah retreated to his own world. Building the ark may have required project management skills, but business and project management expertise are not what we remember him for. Noah was not one of our “founding fathers.” His ability to teach his own children was limited. Noah was someone who gave up on the world. Abraham and his descendants never gave up on the world and thus were the first Jews.

The management lesson is that justice and respect are a requirement for prosperity. Retreating to your own place may save you, but it will not save the organization.

Note: Rosh Hodesh Heshvan is the anniversary of my bar mitzvah. It does not always coincide with Parashat Noah. This year, 2017, it does.  The above thoughts are a combination of my remarks from 2016 and 2017.

Shabbat Headgear

In my previous blog, Librarian’s Lobby, I published in February 2001 an article titled, “A Question of Proper Headgear.”  You can read it at: .  This article examined (tongue in cheek) the question: “On Shabbat in Chicago is one permitted to wear a kipah with a New York Knicks symbol on it? “ You will have to read the article for the development of the arguments and reasons.  The conclusion was that one is not permitted to wear headgear from another city on Shabbat because someone entering the shul may get confused and end Shabbat at the wrong time.

This article was based on a class I gave in 1990.  While the original was Purim Torah, that means it was satire for the purpose of amusing the reader, I did analyze the relevant Jewish law.  In later articles[1] I wrote more on headgear and the etymology of the word, “yarmulke.”  See the footnote for detailed citations.  Just a disclaimer—I am a librarian and researcher, I am not a posek or a rabbi. 

In preparation for the original article and class I discussed the halacha with the late Rabbi Ya’akov Frank.  He said that since mourning on Shabbat is forbidden, wearing Chicago Cubs[2] regalia on Shabbat is forbidden.
Since the Cubs won the World Series in 2016 and were in the National League championship series in 2017, I think Rabbi Frank’s opinion is now superseded by new facts. A Cubs kippah is a sign of pride, not a sign of mourning. There should be no hesitation to wear a Cubs kippah on Shabbat or Yom Tov if you hold that wearing a sports symbol is appropriate for your head. However, one should refrain from wearing work clothes on Shabbat. If your normal work uniform includes sports regalia, you should not wear them on Shabbat. If you normally wear business attire such as a coat and tie and an outsider couldn’t tell difference between business attire and Shabbat attire, then there is no question.

In the previous articles I just talked about headgear because there are many minhagim (customs) associated with the wearing of headgear for both men and women.  There are few traditions associated with body wear.  This past Yom Tov I saw two men wearing New York Yankees jerseys.  One had a jacket on over the jersey and the other used the jersey as a jacket. I wondered if my reasoning for not wearing a New York themed kippah worked for a jersey.  The reason wearing a New York kippah was not allowed was because someone walking into shul would see it and think s/he was in New York and end Shabbat at the wrong time. That reason did not apply to the one wearing the jersey under his jacket.  One would really have to be almost next to him to even see the New York symbol.  For the other person, wearing the jersey was part of a joke and everyone knew he was wearing a costume.  I conclude, while not forbidden, the practice is frowned upon because it is not in the spirit of Shabbat or holiday.


[1]  See the Librarian’s Lobby articles:  “The Yarmulke : part 1 Etymology of the term”  August 2008 and “ The Yarmulke : part 2 Head Gear in General”   September 2008.

[2] I am a total non-sports fan.  I do not pay attention to any professional or college team.  I have no interest in watching organized sports.  I was a weekly softball player until my body refused to do my bidding and it took 4-5 hours to recover from a game.  I only talk about them as an intellectual exercise and because so many other people think sports teams matter.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Take responsibility

Nitzvim and Vayelech.
September 26, 2017

Free will or in other words taking responsibility is an important part of Jewish ethics.  This week is a double parsha, Nitzvim and Vayelech. For past few weeks, in the Torah readings we have been reading many laws, many of them are part of nation building and others have to do with relationships between people.   We read about the punishment God will dispense for non-obedience.  In Deuteronomy 30:14 – 20 we read that God tells us there is good and evil. We have the option to walk in the way of the LORD, keeping the commandments or face punishment or death.  Later in Deuteronomy 31:22-25 we read that when Moses finished writing the word of the law, they were to be put in the Aron Ha-Kodesh.  God gives Yehoshua the charge:  חזק ואמץ Be strong and courageous.

“Choose life” means that we choose life for ourselves and for our children. We must take responsibility for our choices and actions.  We must learn the laws ourselves and teach our children, our colleagues, our empolyees, and others what they need to know to be member of our society and organizations.

The management lesson that we have a basic mission as members of the organization.  If we follow the rules, we will live and prosper; if not, we won’t.  However, this is tempered the charge to be strong.  The rules of the organization do not have the power of law or the holiness of Divine commandments.  “Be Strong” and “choose life” are commands or principles to follow when the situation is beyond the written rules.  No organization has the right to take your life (physical or spiritual).  There are some principles that require courage to fight and change.  When the situation is ambiguous or confusing, one needs to turn to the inner strength and courage to make it right.

I take this opportunity to wish everyone שנה טובה ומתוקה a Happy and Sweet New Year.  Make this year be one of health, physical and spiritual wealth, good health andmay your machines follow your direcstions.. May you have the strength and courage to make your organization stronger and better able to meet the needs of the members and those you serve.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Is obedience a bribe or payment to God?

August 5, 2017 
This week’s parasha, Va-ethanan, is Moshe’s discourse to the people of Israel.  He reviews some of the events of the years since they left Egypt such as events of Baal-Peor and giving by God of the laws and ordinances.  In the fourth Aliyah, the ten commandments are repeated.

There are whole books written on the ten commandments. The giving of the tablets with these commandments is the moment of revelation of God to His people.  Moshe wants us to remember both the content and the drama of the event. In some ways, they are the basis of many of our Jewish laws and of the Judaeo-Christian ethics.  The management lessons are many, but I just want to mention one stream.  Moshe is reminding us that we have a history.  If we as a people or as individuals do not conform to the expected norms, we will be punished.  The extreme punishment of death is consequence of ignoring God and worshiping idols.  In the organization members, should be aware of the rules.  Failure to follow the most important ethics and rules can result in termination.

This week parasha Ekev. opens with a blessing that will come with obedience.  While do not understand this as a promise or covenant, the message is clear.  If the people keep the laws, God will love us, bless us, and cause the nation to multiply. This message is repeated in several ways in the parasha.  Is obedience a bribe or payment to God?  Can God be bribed?

If we want to bribe a person we offer something they desire such as fame, honor, or fortune.  Can doing the right thing for the good of oneself or community ever be a “bribe?”  Can one do good in one area as a compensation for a lack in another?  Such as does an act of tzedakah compensate for treating someone disrespectfully?  May one violate Shabbat for a “worthy” cause?

The management lesson for this week is in 8:3 –

כי לא על הלחם לבדו יחיה האדם כי
 על כל מוצא פי ה" יחיה האדם 

For man (people) do no live by bread alone, but everything that comes from the mouth of God sustains the people.

Part of this sentence is often quoted to mean that food is not the only thing that people require.  For the   Everything word that comes out of the “organizational mouth” should work toward making the organization a better place.  We have to give the employees respect, honor, and justice not as a bribe, but as the way to make the organization a better place to work and a better way to help the customers and clients. The spiritual well-being of the organization is as important as the financial well-being.  In the well-run organization one leads by setting a good example, having reasonable expectations, and respect for the needs of the individual.
organization food (read monetary compensation) is not enough.