In the next several weeks I will have the privilege of praising publicly two dear friends and colleagues on the occasion of significant milestones in their lives and the lives of their synagogue communities.
The first is Rabbi Ammi Hirsch, the Senior Rabbi of the Stephen S. Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan, on his tenth anniversary as that community’s spiritual leader.
Ammi is brilliant, eloquent, thoughtful, visionary, and dynamic, and is among our nation’s finest congregational rabbis. His greatest virtues, despite all these undeniable strengths, are his modesty, humility and kindness.
Ammi did not wish to be honored on this occasion, though he is without question well-deserving, but allowed his community to do so on the condition that the synagogue raise substantial funds to expand their synagogue’s youth programming. His intent is to engage and inspire the youngest generation of Jews to become our future Jewish leaders imbued with serious Jewish learning, strong ethical impulses, and a proud identification with the people and state of Israel.
The other is Emeritus Rabbi Martin Weiner, who is being honored by his congregation, Sherith Israel of San Francisco, on the 50th anniversary of his ordination.
I spent the first seven years of my rabbinate as Marty’s assistant. He is a rabbi’s rabbi, a wonderful teacher who models integrity, wisdom, humility, kindness, and a commitment to people. Marty has inspired many young women and men, including his own son Daniel, to become rabbis themselves. Always gentle and wise, Marty is beloved by so many because he gives of himself so selflessly.
As I reflect upon the virtues that distinguish both Ammi and Marty, humility, modesty and simple human kindness immediately come to mind.
As servant-leaders, they are worthy recipients of the gratitude and praise of their communities.
The following are reflections first on humility and then on kindness because the latter naturally springs from the former:
Know before Whom you stand. -Talmud, Berachot 28b
Humility is a river fed by two streams – a sense of limitation and a sense of awe. -Rabbi Norman Hirsch
Teach your tongue to say ‘I don’t know.’ – Talmud, B’rachot 4a
The most important scientific revolutions all include, as their only common feature, the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about our centrality in the cosmos. -Stephen J Gould, paleontologist
For all our conceits about being the center of the universe, we live in a routine planet of a humdrum star stuck away in an obscure corner…on an unexceptional galaxy which is one of about 100 billion galaxies…That is the fundamental fact of the universe we inhabit, and it is very good for us to understand that. -Carl Sagan, astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author
Why was the human being created on the last day? So that if such a person is overcome by pride it might be said: ‘In the creation of the world, the mosquito came before you.’ -B’reishit Rabba
When a person comes into the world his hands are closed as if to say, ‘The whole world is mine, I want to possess it.’ When he leaves the world his hands are spread wide as if to say, ‘I possessed nothing of what is in the present world.’ -Kohelet Rabba
When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people. -Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
A thoughtful act or a kind word may pass in a moment, but the warmth and care behind it stay in the heart forever. – Marjolein Bastin, artist
The best portion of a good man’s life: his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love. -William Wordsworth, poet
Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom.-Dr. Theodore Isaac Rubin, writer
Kindness is loving people more than they deserve. -Joseph Jourbert, moralist and essayist
Show me the man [woman] you honor, and I will know what kind of man [woman] you are. -Thomas Carlyle, Scottish philosopher