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Yachdav 2014 – SELF-WORTH: Flipping it on its Head


By Cyd Weissman


Bean in Chicago. Have you seen your reflection?

Yachdav: Together. Yearly, the Coalition of Innovating Congregations, 60 congregations in New York gather to celebrate and learn from one another. A big idea we all share is creating Jewish learning for the whole of a person. We are not in business just to know stuff or do stuff. Jewish learning for the whole of a person is our work.

This Thursday, Rabbi Shai Held, Co-founder of Hadar Yeshiva, will lead our learning to understand how we can flip this notion of being a person-of self worth on its secular head. Is there a Jewish way to think about self worth that may be in contradiction to popular culture? I’ve been thinking about it.

The first thing that comes to mind I must be a coffee bean. I start the day with Dannon Coffee Yogurt. I’ve been launching my day this way since my junior year of high school. As the morning hours tick I drink one to two cups of coffee-mostly decaf. When decadent, when yearning for sweet satisfaction, I indulge with coffee ice cream and a dollop of chocolate. So if the saying is true that “You are what you eat,” I’m the bean.

Or am I my roles? I am wife to Jay, mother of four, mother-in-law to one, sister to Alan and Lisa, educator in New York, friend to wonderful women and a handful of men, cousin, grandmother of two, daughter to Rosalie and David and neighbor to Sheffield Lane. I am woman. I am Jew. I am American. It’s nice to meet you.

Or possibly I’m my resume. I am, as our times insist, the sum total of my colleges and jobs and activities. I am the University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State University and Gratz College. What a funny combination of ivy Jewish practicality. I don’t belong to clubs per se, but I’m in Facebook groups and would say I’m an aspiring blogger, reader, and writer.  My sports are limited to putting on hard hat and hard boots for a ride on a horse and putting on sneakers for long walks with my husband. So that’s who I am? A degreed worker with too little time for hobbies?

I’m also short. I’m short according to all the images in magazines, and movies and daily culture. I’m short in weight… or let’s say over weight. I need to stand up straight and stop aging—looking my age. The daily mirror and personal reflection remind me that I’m short of what I could be and should be.

I’m short in all my roles, where I can be better and do better. I can be more patient, more loving, and be a better listener. I can keep a cleaner house and spend more time helping others. Yes, the list is longer, but don’t need it all hanging out there. So I’m short, even though I’m 5’5″.

Which ever definition you pick-my food, my activities, my roles, the images of our times the sum and total of me-my self-worth comes from circumstance or achievement. I’ve got to earn myself worth. I’ve been working on it and still come up short.

Clearly I need Rabbi Shai Held’s teaching: Flipping Self Worth on Its Head. A Jewish Theology of Human Dignity and Self-Worth. This Thursday, Rabbi Shai Held is going to challenge my notion of self worth.

Is there wisdom for folks like me who have built a life of fullness and shortness?

Is there a guide from our Jewish teaching to counter young people’s core belief that the college they get into, and the clubs they belong to in service of a resume are their sum total?

We’ll study on Thursday and I’ll share. In the meanwhile I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What are the guts of self worth?  If I’m not a coffee bean, what am I?

Texts to Study Thursday:
1. Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5
Therefore was Adam created singly: (1) to teach you that if anyone destroys a single soul,* Scripture charges  him as though he had destroyed an entire world, and if anyone saves a single soul,* Scripture credits her as  though she had saved an entire world. (2) And [Adam was created singly] for the sake of peace in the human race, so that no one might say to his fellow, “My ancestor was greater than your ancestor,” (2b) and that the heretics should not say, “There are many powers in heaven.” (3) And [Adam was created singly] to proclaim the greatness of the Blessed Holy One, for a human being stamps many coins with one die and they are all alike one with the other, but the King of the kings of kings, the Blessed Holy One, has stamped all of humanity with the die of the first man, and yet not one of them is like his fellow. (4) Therefore each and every person is obligated to say, “For my sake was the world created.”

*Some versions say: “from Israel”

2. Mishnah Avot 3:14
Rabbi Akiva used to say: “Beloved is the human being, for s/he was created in the image of God. Even  more beloved is s/he for it was made know to her/him that s/he was created in the image of God, as it says,  ‘For in the image of God God made the human being’ (Genesis 9:6).”

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