Brain Flame

Imagine a room full of shouting people; walls plastered with large sheets of paper covered with scrawls. What is it?  A kindergarten for children with poor social skills?  No, it is a typical brainstorming session.

Originated in the 1940s by advertising man Alex Osborn, brainstorming with its freewheeling tossing out of ideas and absence of criticism, is controversial. Some swear by its effectiveness while others dismiss it as nothing more than entertainment for executives.

I frequently facilitate corporate brainstorming sessions and I’ve also done some rewarding ones with my family. They can work well. However, a certain Torah principle must be followed.  Once ideas and solutions have emerged during the fun period, you’re only halfway through.  The tough process of analyzing, critiquing, and reconciling conflicting ideas must be tackled or the first part was a waste of time.  Expecting to achieve insight without hard work ignores reality.

The Torah is divided into 54 Sedras each with its unique name. A Sedra encompasses a number of Biblical chapters. The chapters as we know them are not part of ancient Jewish wisdom. They were put in place by Archbishop Langton during the 13th century. While they are useful for locating verses in Scripture, they occasionally distort God’s intended divisions. Sometimes, Stephen Langton even presented one chapter as bridging two different Sedras. Analyzing the original Sedra divisions and their names is a worthwhile endeavor. For instance, only six Sedras have names of people in their titles; 3 who were not Jewish and 3 who were.  In each group, two are righteous and 1 is wicked.  Noah, Yitro, and Balak comprise the first group while Sarah, Pinchas, and Korach make up the second.

Two other Sedras have very similar names.  Tetzaveh, the eighth Sedra of the Book of Exodus, means “You shall command.”  Tzav, the second Sedra of the Book of Leviticus, is the instruction “Command!”

The similarity in name leads us to compare the two. We see that both mention a continuously burning flame (Exodus 27:20 & Leviticus 6:5). Exodus speaks of a continuous flame in the candelabrum, the menorah, while its Leviticus counterpart refers to perpetual flame upon the altar.

Well, which is it, menorah or altar?  Actually, both, but their appearance in similar sounding Sedras directs us to examine them together, revealing useful information. In Jewish thought, the menorah and its light always represent education and wisdom.  Even in English we use the word “enlightened” to mean educated.  When we say, “She’s a bright girl,” we mean that she is smart not that she glows in the dark.

The altar, on the other hand, represents sacrifice. The word has an undeservedly bad reputation. Instead of equating it with martyrdom and suffering, think of it as an offering one is fortunate to make.  Nothing of value can ever be achieved if nothing of value is invested.

The light of the menorah isn’t about I.Q. The world is full of high I.Q. but incredibly foolish people. It instead reflects a deep comprehension of how the world really works. Gaining that wisdom, whether it is in relation to one’s marriage, children, society or business demands willingness to work hard, passing up ephemeral ‘quick fixes’ and sacrificing present relaxation and fun for future gain.

The connection between the two eternal flames reveals that becoming wise always involves sacrifice.  Studying Mathematics, History, Accounting or Physics is much harder than studying Social Studies, Gender Studies, or Middle-Period Etruscan Pottery. As too many recent graduates are discovering, it is also much more valuable.  Serious students of truly enlightening courses will have far less time for partying than fellow students coasting through fluffy, insubstantive programs.  If you’re not willing to sacrifice, you won’t gain a real education. The flames of both the menorah and the altar are inseparable.

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This week’s Susan’s Musings: Soda, Shanghai and Slippery Slopes:

At first, I thought the appropriate reaction to Mayor Bloomberg’s suggested ban on mega-ounce drinks was to roll one’s eyes and be grateful for not living in NY.  After all, “I may not drink super-sized carbonated beverages but I will defend until death your right to do so,” just doesn’t have the same force as the original slogan. However, my attention ratcheted up when…READ MORE

Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here.

In the book of Genesis, when the three visitors visit Abraham, it seems to me he really goes out of his way to welcome them and make a meal for them. Was that customary back then or did he know that those three men were someone special?  READ MORE

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