I offer to all of you, dear readers, two small, practical suggestions on how to make resolutions for the new year that you actually have a chance of keeping . . .
1. Start small. This is the wisdom of “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The rabbis of my Jewish tradition taught, “One who tries to grasp too much ends up grasping nothing” (in Hebrew: “tafasta merubah lo tafasta”). Let’s say your goal is to lose a big bunch of weight this year. Trying to lose it all is very hard and depressing when you fail. However, what if your goal is just to lose two pounds a month, or a half a pound a week? That is not such a daunting task, and if you stick with it after a year you will be half way to your goal. Start small.
2. Do not try to teach what cannot be learned. Again the ancient rabbis taught modern wisdom: “Just as it is a commandment from God to teach what can be learned, so too it is a commandment not to teach what cannot be learned.” This odd but deeply wise advice seems to be defeatist, but the opposite is true. We often barrage people with advice we think they should take and then we are confused or even angered when they do not take it, and they do not take our advice because they are not ready for our advice. I omit the reason that sometimes they do not take our advice because our advice is just wrong. So how about a New Year’s resolution in which we all resolve to be more sparing with our advice and more generous with our love. Let us just resolve to try to teach what can be learned and leave what cannot be learned for another day — for another year.
Happy New Year!
UPDATE: My column on a reader’s question about guns in church caused a not-so-small ruckus.
For some, the idea of worshippers taking steps to be protected from attack seemed both moral and prudent.
J from Northport, wrote:
“Thank you for your clear discussion on the subject of worshippers bringing guns (handguns) to church/temple/mosque. We watch the EWTN daily Mass almost every day and we are relieved to see a uniformed officer at the chapel entrance.
“Although we are challenged to give up our lives for our faith as martyrs, we have no right to expose others to death. Again, a great piece, it should be discussed by the hierarchy and pastors.”
And in the same appreciative vein, Rev. E from Elma, New York:
“I want to thank you for your response to the question on security at places of worship. I plan to include the column in our church bulletin with full acknowledgment of your authorship.”
However, there were those who were appalled by what they thought I said.
D from Wilson, North Carolina, wrote to me:
“Practically, I understand your answer; philosophically, I am appalled. The need for security is understandable, but I would bet the house that no observing Jew carries a weapon into a synagogue. Nor should any Christian embarking on prayer carry one into a church. That should really have been your answer in this terribly gun-conflicted country.”
J from Hamden, Connecticut, wrote in high dudgeon:
“Rabbi Gellman, did you really just write that it’s OK to bring guns to church to possibly protect yourself? It is more likely that the gun-toting worshipper will kill his other worshippers rather than protect himself and others. I am appalled that you would even enter into this discussion — we as a society should try to be stopping gun violence, not contributing to it. For shame!”
To whom I responded in the spirit of Oscar Wilde: “My dear, you have not had the pleasure of understanding me.”
Dear J and D,
I understand and appreciate and endorse your concerns. My suggestion following the Texas church shootings was for houses of worship and the human beings who pray inside of them to take reasonable, moral, spiritually acceptable, and most of all, effective steps to protect themselves and their fellow parishioners against unjust, tragic, murderous attacks. The best way for this to be done is not, I agree with you, for congregants to bring guns into church or synagogue, except perhaps for trained off-duty police officers. However, there is a solution that does not force worshippers to be completely vulnerable to violence against worshippers, and that solution obviously is to employ trained security personnel to stand guard and screen people before they can enter the church or synagogue. Self-defense is not a sin. It is a fulfillment of the commandment to protect innocent life from unjust assault.