Have an Advisory Board by Aviva Meshwork
Aviva Meshwork is an educator, writer, and Trip Director for the JWRP. Originally from Toronto, she now lives in Israel with her husband and 4 children.
Look what happened when six blind men set off to discover what an elephant is really like;
The first blind man said: “the elephant is like a pillar”, after having touched its leg.
The second blind man said: “No, it’s like a rope”, after having touched its tail.
The third blind man said: “It’s like a thick tree branch”, after having touched its trunk.
The fourth blind man said: “It’s like a fan!” after having touched its ear.
The fifth blind man said: “It’s like a huge wall”, after having touched the elephant’s belly.
The sixth blind man was sure it was like a solid pipe after having touched its tusk.
The men began arguing about their findings; each convinced that they were right. This continued until another man overheard them. This man, able to see, offered his perception and explained to the others that each of them was partially correct, but their findings were limited because they were only discovering the animal’s parts rather than the whole animal. The blind men were limited to their sense of touch and therefore didn’t have the same clarity that the other man did. As a result, they were unable to properly assess what an elephant is really like.
The above story illustrates the issue of subjectivity. Subjectivity is how one’s own judgment is shaped by personal opinions and feelings rather than outside influences. The blind men came to their conclusions concerning the elephant based on their own feelings and findings, independent of anything outside of that. They needed the seeing man’s clearer vantage point of the elephant to gain a better sense of what it was really like. The men were essentially ‘blinded’ by their subjectivity, whereas the man with sight was able to be more objective, having a greater awareness. He had the clarity the others didn’t.
We too are blinded by subjectivity. We frequently assess situations through our own lenses- lenses that ‘blind’ us with the fogginess of our own personal biases, feelings, egos and so on. Therefore in order to fully navigate our way through challenging situations, relationships and decision-making processes with clarity and perspective we require the objectivity of certain others. Objectivity removes our blind spots and expands our thinking so that we can view matters impartially.
So how do we, naturally subjective creatures, gain objectivity and which certain others do we go to? Our Torah has an answer for that — get an Advisory Board! In Ethics of our Fathers (1:6) it says; …Yehoshua ben Perachiah said: "Make yourself a Rabbi; acquire a friend; and judge every person favorably."
1) Make Yourself a Rabbi/Torah teacher
The course of life is often challenging to navigate and we regularly need to make major life decisions that affect not only ourselves, but also those around us. Additionally, as we grow on our Jewish journey, stuff naturally comes up which needs to be evaluated. The situations are endless and the need to think through them clearly is ever present. Sometimes it is helpful to ask; “what does the Torah have to say about this?” Getting clear answers and guidance from a Torah perspective from someone who is more learned and has sharpened his/her mind in spiritual and worldly matters is helpful. Therefore the first person on our Advisory Board is a Rabbi/Torah teacher. A Rabbi is defined as a scholar or teacher, especially one who studies Jewish law.
Rabbis/Torah teachers are certainly not perfect; they are human and are therefore limited too. However what they do have is an outlook on life that has been fine-tuned by many years of Torah study/living. When seeking Jewish guidance from a Rabbi/Torah teacher you are essentially asking the expert. If, for example, you had a question about the brain and wanted an expert opinion, you would seek the advice of a brain surgeon. Why? For the obvious reason that a brain surgeon has studied the brain inside and out and keeps himself in-the-know on current practices in neurological issues. The same logic applies when asking a Rabbi questions which require a Torah perspective.
The word ‘make’ from “Make yourself a Rabbi” is worth exploring. Rabbis/Torah teachers are not a ‘one size fits all’ and selecting the right one for you is paramount to receiving proper objectivity. Some advice: The Rabbi/ Torah teacher should understand your personal circumstances, challenges, spiritual pitfalls and spiritual goals. Sensitivity to, and an understanding of, your religious background are helpful too. Moreover, your Rabbi/Torah teacher should maintain integrity to the Torah’s dictates. You have to actively seek out this person and together cultivate a comfortable relationship that is based on the above. If you were fortunate enough to be on the JWRP, you are already ahead of the game because you have phenomenal City Leaders that can be your Torah teacher or direct you to one that may be!
Keep in mind that the crucial role of this person is to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.
2) Acquiring a Friend
Number 2 on your Advisory Board is a friend. Not just any friend- a friend that you have acquired through the investment of time getting to know each other, going through life’s tests together and from building a foundation of trust and honesty. While this person is also a limited being, he/she has an advantage over you because they are not you! Nonetheless this friend ‘gets’ you and understands your perspective on life. She/he has the experience to be able to recognize you in your challenges and limitations coupled with a desire to help you through them. You haven’t just simply been there to facilitate each other’s good times but rather this is a friendship that has been built and nurtured and as a result it has moved you forward in life.
For me, Sharon is that friend. We have known each other for years and have developed our friendship over time. We have shared many experiences together, traveled together, laughed and cried together. We have experienced real joy and real pain- together. There have been some setbacks along the way but the foundation of our friendship has been strong enough to deal with them. Our support for each other also includes giving each other advice (sometimes strong) when needed. And not always the advice we have wanted to hear but rather what we have needed to hear– and without judgment. Sharon’s experience as my friend affords her the ability to say what she must in order to give me the perspective that she feels I may be lacking, and vice versa. I can’t count the many times Sharon has provided with much needed clarity, and I trust the reverse is true too. Our friendship screams, ‘I am safe!’, ‘I know you!’, ‘You can come to me!’, ‘I have time for you!’, ‘I have your best interests at heart!’, ‘You shouldn’t wear that!’
A friend that you have acquired has the expertise and competence to counter your subjectivity with their objectivity while balancing what they know about you with what they think is best for you. A good friend takes away the ‘keys’ if need be in order to keep you safe. ‘Cuz that’s what friends are for…
Judge Every Person Favorably
Lastly is the wisdom of judging every person favorably. While there are many ways to explore this aspect I want to draw on one critical point; our need for our advisors to help us navigate our relationships and to help us judge the people in our lives for the good. At times we need help seeing the good that others surely possess because admittedly this is occasionally hard to do, in particular with challenging personalities. This is especially important with relatives- Enter your Advisory Board!
Let’s say you have a challenge with a parent and you want to gain clarity on how best to work through it. A Rabbi/Torah teacher can help clarify for you what your Torah obligations are to your parents, given the situation you are grappling with. They may also shed light on parents in general which could help you see your parents more favorably. Their unique and objective perspective will not only help you circumvent the issue with more clarity, but may also help you strengthen the relationship.
Your friend would be helpful in other ways. Your friend should be able to support you and be honest with you. Your friend’s involvement in your life matters allows him/her to potentially point things out about your parent that may be favorable in ways that you possibly hadn’t thought of. Additionally, your friend should be able to tell you if you are behaving in a way that is unbecoming of you. All this is helpful objectivity, and what a true friend is meant to do.
In the above example, both the Rabbi/Torah teacher and your friend have your best interests in check. If they are good at what they do and seek to preserve your relationships then their objectivity will bear fruit. Ultimately, this kind of objectivity will lead you to judge people favorably.
Choosing an Advisory Board and maintaining its members may take time and effort. This is not a ‘sit by and wait and see what happens’ kind of exercise. However, once you have it and nurture it throughout your life, you will find many positive outcomes and far more personal, spiritual and interpersonal successes in your life!