My 10 year old twins, Jacob and Sophie, were in the back seat of our minivan, and bickering once again. I mean, I love it when people fight over me, but this was getting ridiculous.
“I’m the one who made mom a mom!” Jacob announced, holding his one-minute head start in life over his twin sister’s head.
“Yeah, but I’m the one who made her a mother of twins. That’s even more special!” Sophie reminded him.
“Yes, but she had to become a mother before she became a mother of twins. And she became a mother because of me!” Jacob insisted.
Sophie considered her comeback options – and then came back with a doozy: “You know what? You’re right. And that one-minute is going to cost you some first-born fast days once you’re old enough.”
And with that, the car was silent.
I have to admit that, as appreciative as I was that I was that the argument was over, I was even more delighted that it had ended by one of my children invoking a Jewish fact. Sophie must have learned about Ta’anit Bechorim, the Fast of the First Born, which is traditionally observed by first born males on the day before Passover, in school at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Nassau County. This fast day, which commemorates that Jewish first born males were spared in Egypt when God sent his infamous “death of the first born” plague, has deep meaning for our tradition, our history and our identity as a people. But for Sophie, she had been saving this Jewish tidbit until she could use it for a quiz, or in an essay, or – best of all – to put her brother in his place.
In general, I’m not an advocate of my children “dissing” each other (as the kids say these days). But I did make an exception to my typical admonishment because her response to him was so…Jewish. I felt a tinge of pride that Sophie could apply her Jewish comprehension so quickly and appropriately – even if it wasn’t the kindest application of her knowledge.
Many of us struggle between what we have learned as a part of our religion, culture and tradition and how we might practically apply it to work and life. And I would bet that many of us don’t even engage in such a struggle – not because we are blending Jewish thought and real life so seamlessly — but because marrying the two doesn’t occur to us beyond eating bagels, fasting on Yom Kippur, and taking pride in the fact that Moses, Einstein and Koufax were among our chosen people. I admit it, too: I am far more likely to ask myself, “What would Oprah do?” than I am to think about what the Torah or the Talmud might suggest.
Elie Wiesel once commented, “I do not recall a Jewish home without a book on the table.” That may be true – but that book is now more likely to be a Kindle (or iPad with an e-book reader) loaded with the newest releases from Jodi Picoult or John Grisham. And if it is a Jewish book, it may be for display purposes only, or, if it’s actually being used, it’s for rare reference rather than regular application to daily life. Unless you are a “professional Jew” (which is not the same as being a Jewish professional), when was the last time that you turned to Jewish texts from ancient or modern times as a source of wisdom for real life challenges?
As someone who speaks for Jewish audiences, writes for Jewish readers, and coaches both Jewish professionals (like lawyers and accountants) and professional Jews (like rabbis and Executive Directors of Jewish organizations), I turn to Jewish thinkers, writers, and historical figures as sources of inspiration, education and motivation on a regular basis. But I realize that I do this for work purposes only. In my daily life, I forget that I have a well-spring of Jewish wisdom available to me that could guide me in managing my time, dealing with stress, parenting my children, being a better partner to my husband, and many more of the ongoing challenges I face. It’s like I leave my yiddishe kop in my office, and put on my secular cap to wear in the rest of my life. What a waste – a waste to leave my tradition, my religion, my culture and yes, my birthright untapped.
There is so much to know about and learn from Judaism. And while I came into my Jewish identity later in life and still don’t have any real formal Jewish education, I can either use it as an excuse or as an opportunity to commit to “Think Jewish” outside of Jewish holidays, Jewish institutions and Jewish events. I choose opportunity. And I’m not making a pledge to only think Jewish: I will still turn to the wisdom of behavioral economists like Dan Ariely, time management gurus like David Allen, life coaches like Martha Beck, and, of course, make time for Oprah on her new network. What I will do is make every effort to ask myself, “What’s a Jewish perspective on this?” in addition to seeking out the others.
My children do this naturally and regularly. Case-in-point: In preparation for our upcoming trip to China, my first born son Jacob reminded me that, while the laws of kashrut may bar him from indulging in turtle soup, crickets, grasshoppers and locusts are considered kosher birds – and he plans on eating them. That’s his applied Jewish knowledge. Here’s mine, from Mivchar Hapninim: “Food is not to be treated with scorn.” So I will keep my mouth shut, my eyes open and my camera rolling.
“Thinking Jewish” may turn out to be easier said than done. That’s ok. As David Ben Gurion reminds us: “The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer.”