|Westchester Day School|
I entered the old mansion on the shore that housed Westchester Day School. I was early for my interview. There wasn’t anything about the name of the school that caught my attention when I answered the ad for a 7 & 8th grade English teacher. But when I entered the foyer I noticed a sign that said,
“Kipa’s must be worn past this point.”
I thought to myself, “Odd, I don’t know what a Kipa is?”
When I got to the school’s main office I was told to continue down the hall to the shul for my interview with the principal and the headmaster.
“Shul?” I asked, “Yes, you’ll see it on the left.”
“OK, I thought to myself, I don’t know what a shul is... I think I might be in trouble.”
There was a door open to a chapel like room and two men were sitting inside. They greeted me, so I figured I was in the right place. The principal was a fairly ordinary looking guy who happen to be wearing a yarmulke,... but the headmaster... he was intense... long black garments, with a long gray beard and piercing blue eyes... I knew, without having ever met one before, that he was a rabbi.
Fortunately, I was too shocked to offer my hand to shake... (Orthodox Jewish men do not shake hands with women) but my jaw dropped and the first thing I said was, “I am NOT Jewish.”
The rabbi wryly smiled as he uttered, “That is OK my dear, we would like you teach English not Hebrew.”
And so I did for a year... it was my first teaching job, and I learned not just how to run a classroom, but how to be a guest in a foreign culture.
The instructor Rabbi Slotkin who’s room was adjacent mine kindly offered to be my rebbe to help guide me through this strange world. A rebbe is a spiritual and many times practical advisor in Judaism. Jews consult their rebbe for advice or clarification on Jewish law in both personal and business matters.
I naturally took to having a rebbe. You see, I have always been a person who challenged my religious teaching from a very early age. I was probing, and according to the nuns, sometimes blasphemous in the questions I would ask them about Catholicism.
My questions would occasionally lead to phone calls from the nuns to my mother with claims that I didn’t have any faith... because I asked too many questions. It wasn’t until I was much older and had a divinity professor for a catechism teacher that my questioning was finally viewed as a sign of how serious I was about understanding my religious faith.
Almost every afternoon there was a quiet time in both myself’s and Rabbi Slotkin’s schedule. I would ask him questions about religious concepts I had overheard that day from our students. On one particular day I entered Rabbi Slockin’s room, it was just before Passover, he was scanning through a large thick book...
“It’s a book of foods and thing we can’t do over Passover.”
“Looks like a lot of restrictions. How can you stand it?”
“The lack of freedom.”
“Limitations set me free.”
“When you know what you can and can’t do - it is freeing... no decisions to make... clarity on were you stand in the world.”
Limitations are freeing? This was the oddest notion I had ever heard of... Over the years I have occasionally thought about Rabbi Slotkin’s statement about limitations. It wasn’t until I really started to review my personal values that I began to understand what my rebbe from long ago was talking about.
First, I realized that he had a very dark sense of humor. Because the way he phrased his reply, “Limitations set you free.” was a reference to the the sign over the gate of the concentration camp, Aushwitz. “Work sets you free.” I guess one’s sense of humor can not help but become dark when you are the child of Holocaust survivors. But it was more than a dark joke, it was an important point...
limitations are only freeing when they are self-imposed. Limitations put on you from outside forces are repressive.
I find being bombarded with commercials that are subconsciously manipulative repressive, so I choose to limit how much television I watch. Limitations based on your personal values are freeing.
We need now, more than any other time in our world’s history, to set limitations or our sense of self will be sucked away by hours spent flitting about on the internet... surfing wave after wave that just crash on an empty beach.
We live in a world with too many choices. You can be connected to the internet 24/7. You can buy 40 different types of cereals. Too many choices but only so many hours in a day. So you need to discern...
decide based on your values, not haphazardly, what your choices are going to be. You need to set personal limitations.
For instance, I found that I was becoming a lot less informed about what is happening in our country and the world because I wasn’t reading the New York Times everyday like I used to before I started blogging. I believe that a democracy can’t function well unless it’s members are well informed. If they are not informed, they chose poor representatives who make bad decisions. So based on my values -I set a limit. No computer after 8pm, which freed up time for me to read the newspaper and some other periodicals that were accumulating by my bed stand.
So what are the limitations you choose based on your values?
What are the limitations you have been trying to set but have been struggling with?
How do your limitations set you free?
Leave a comment I would love to have a dialogue about this idea, please...be my rebbe.