Mishlei Eight: Love

“I will love those who love me, and those who seek me eagerly will find me (Proverbs 8:17).” One of the many things that my mom and I share in common is that we both love easily. It’s the best feeling in the world to love, and by that I don’t just mean being ‘in love’ with someone. That takes time, effort, commitment, and I don’t mean to trivialize it in any way. But beyond lifelong love, there’s also the easy every day loves. In those cases, love it simple pleasures, and excitement, and enthusiasm. It’s loving the people who help us every day, who we work with, who we interact with, regardless of their roles. It doesn’t have to be serious or strong, but I really relate to the loving those who love me idea. If I’m treated well, I respond well, and I love those who show love towards me. I think that’s how all of us feel, and it’s great to see that echoed in this text.

Mishlei Seven: Balance

This chapter of Proverbs, like many of them, has an extended metaphor about a strange, foreign woman who seduces the Israelite. She’s described as a harlot, brazen, and uses extremely sexual language as metaphor, but I’m trying to figure out what it’s for. “Come, let us take our fill of lovemaking until morning; let us enjoy ourselves with amorous embraces. For the man is not at home; he has gone on a long journey (Proverbs 7:18-19).” There’s clearly something in here about being seduced off the path and falling victim to foreign influences. It’s hard to read some of these texts with a modern mentality and to find a way to reconcile our sensibilities to the distinct fear and almost hatred of anything foreign. Today, we’re supposed to be openminded to those who aren’t like us, but back then, straying from the community was a legitimately terrifying thought. Is there a happy medium between the two – open but not naively so?

Mishlei Six: Repentance

“There are six things that the Lord hates, and the seventh is an abomination of His soul; Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood; a heart thinks thoughts of violence; feet that hasten to run to evil; [one who] speaks lies with false testimony and incites quarrels among brothers (Proverbs 6:16-19).” Damn. Things must be really bad if they’re listed as the things God hates the most. I like this list though – God hates liars, those who run to do or think or speak evil, and those who incite these things between others. The Jewish new year just passed, and we’re currently in the time known as the ten days of repentance, when we’re supposed to make amends for the wrongdoings between us throughout the year. And all of these things are things that on some scale, large or small, human beings have done to each other this year. For me personally, I can’t say that I’ve shed blood, but I’ve definitely lied, and moved closer to doing the wrong things than the right ones. So now I’m left wondering how I can do better this year. What steps can I take to be in a better position when I reflect a year from now?

Mishlei Five: Paths

“May your springs spread out rivulets of water in the squares (Proverbs 5:16).” Having lived in Israel for years, I can picture the literal meaning of this verse. Whenever there’s moisture of any kind on the ground, it spreads in a million different directions, particularly on the smooth Jerusalem stone in the squares that dot the city. The source spawns many offshoots, each of which finds their own path through the crevices and rises and falls of the rock. So when I saw this verse, I pictured the literal, as well as the metaphorical. In the symbolic sense, these words made me think about my practice as an educator. When I have all of my learners together, it’s like we’re the source of the spring, learning together and sharing knowledge and wisdom. But the best part is what happens next, when each of my learners takes their own messages from the session and spreads them in their own way, applying them to their own lives or sharing them with their respective communities. This disbursement is the most wonderful part of being an educator, because it means my impact is being felt by my learners as part of their Jewish journeys.

Mishlei Four: Wisdom

“Acquire wisdom, acquire understanding; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth (Proverbs 4:5).” What’s the difference between wisdom and understanding, and how do we achieve both?

Wisdom is defined as:

  • The quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.
  • The soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.
  • The body of knowledge and principles that develops within a specific society or period.

Understanding is:

  • The ability to understand or comprehend something.
  • Sympathetically aware of other people’s feelings; tolerant and forgiving.
  • Having insight or good judgment.

So if the goal is to obtain both of these things, we need to apply experiences, develop understandings, and connect with other human beings, as well as with content. That’s basically what any of us do as we go through life anyway, but I think the trick is to be mindful of it and to intentionally grow our skills in both arenas.

Mishlei Three: Mantra

Sorry for the delay, dear readers! The Rosh Hashana holiday threw off my usual rhythm, but I’m eager to catch up today and get ready for the week ahead.

“Kindness and truth shall not leave you; bind them upon your neck, inscribe them upon the tablet of your heart (Proverbs 3:3).” Lately I’ve been thinking about the idea of picking a mantra, a guiding verse, and keeping it with me always. I’ve thought about it metaphorically, as well as physically. I want to find a piece of ancient and timeless wisdom that speaks to me in such a profound way that I want to carry it with me always. I had brief thoughts about that manifesting as a tattoo, but then I remembered that I’m way too clean cut for that, so instead I’ve been thinking about jewelry that I can wear daily to remind me of the words I want to live by. Now I just have to pick a verse!

Mishlei Two: Discretion

“Thought shall watch over you; discretion shall guard you (Proverbs 2:11).” Discretion is a quality that a lot of people don’t praise and prioritize. In the age of the internet and social media, there’s an emphasis on boldness, on oversharing practically every detail of our lives and thoughts. While I recognize the irony of saying this on my own blog, I think there’s a lost art to discretion and discernment. If we’re discrete, we have more control over our lives on some level, including what people know about us, and how we are seen. Personal branding is a big thing these days, and requires finding a balance between sharing and sharing selectively, which in and of itself is the ultimate art of discretion.

Mishlei One: Wisdom

Today is the first day of Proverbs, a book of Torah traditionally thought to be written by King Solomon, giving us pieces of his wisdom. So, a piece of wisdom for today!

“Let the wise man hear and increase learning. The understanding man shall acquire wise counsels (Proverbs 1:5).” The people who I often look up to the most are those who are constantly in pursuit of knowledge, seeking to learn more from others in any way they can. Something that we hear a lot about today is the idea of imposter syndrome, people who are qualified but don’t feel that they are. I know I regularly think that I’m missing something, some key piece of knowledge or skill that would put me on top of my game. But rather than wallow in that, I constantly seek to further my knowledge and learning by searching for new opportunities both inside and outside of my field. Hopefully all of that is putting me on the path towards wisdom, but it’s definitely an ongoing journey.

Tehillim One Hundred and Fifty: Shofar

Readers, today marks the second biggest milestone of this whole project! Today is the day I was most concerned about reaching – the day that I finish all of Tehillim. This is by far the longest book in Tanakh, and we’ve been on it for a full seven months. I was so worried going into this one – would I be able to find meaning in each psalm, many of which sound very similar? Would I get bored of having no narrative for this long? But I’m proud to say that I managed to do it, and I’m so glad that I did. I’ve honestly enjoyed the challenge of reading each psalm, something I never would have done if not for this project. It’s something I’m so happy I’ve taken on, and I’m looking forward to the next step.

It seems fitting that with Rosh Hashana starting later this week, I choose this verse. “Praise Him with a shofar blast, praise Him with psaltery and lyre (Psalms 150:3).” The call of the shofar, ubiquitous in Jewish circles and ceremonies this time of year, is meant to awaken us from the languid slumber of our everyday lives. I heard the shofar for the first time this year earlier today, and it’s definitely a jarring, primitive sound. This year, I hope I’m awakened to do more, to accomplish everything I set out to every day, and to take time for my internal, as well as external, needs.

We’re in the home stretch – 717 chapters down and only 212 to go!

Tehillim One Hundred and Forty-Nine: Prayer

“Hallelujah! Sing to the Lord a new song; His praise is in the congregation of the pious (Psalms 149:1).” Later this week, we will celebrate Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. Many people complain about the rote prayers that we say in the long holiday services, and tend to do the same when speaking about Shabbat services, and other traditional recitations. While I don’t agree with this thought process – I personally find a greater amount of spirituality in knowing that I’m saying the same timeless words as other people across space and time – I understand how one could feel that it’s impersonal. So this verse is interesting in that it’s calling on us to sing a new song, which theoretically would be one of our own choosing and creation. Each of us has a unique voice, and an inner song, that we can bring forward to the world, and to God.