Temple Adat Elohim
You are here:Home > About Us > Our Clergy > High Holiday Sermon Archive > Resume vs. Eulogy Values

Resume vs. Eulogy Values

By Rabbi Andrew Straus~ Yom Kippur Sermon 2016 / 5777
The competition to get into New York City’s top preschools is fierce. I spent a year as the interim Rabbi at Central Synagogue in Manhattan before I joined TAE. Central Synagogue serves the Upper East Side Jewish community. One would think that a preschool director’s primary job is running the preschool, making sure the curriculum is current and up to date, that the teachers have all the training and support that they need, and that the students are well cared for. Cindy, Central’s preschool director focuses on only two things from mid-October till mid-March, admissions and ex-missions. Parents start touring preschools in October. All of the private preschools have agreed that they will not accept applications before a certain date. By 2:00 am on that date, Central had received over 30 applications for its 30 slots. (It’s a good thing our network server did not break down.) And over the next few days it received many more applications. That was just for the two-year-old program. The thinking goes “If I don’t get my application in early, my two-year-old will not get a spot and then… She or He won’t get into Harvard.”
Example number two is also from Central Synagogue: Before I got to Central I had never heard the term exmissions. Exmission is how a school ensures it future. The preschool director has to work to make sure that her graduates get into kindergarten at the right independent schools – for if not then my four-year-old, will not get into Yale. Mind you exmission is not just vital for parents but for the preschool director too: her job depends on it. If the preschool does not have a good exmission track record, its pipe line will quickly dry up.
Many parents hoping to ensure that their children get the best possible advantage, even hire preschool admission coaches.
Yes, on the Upper East Side kids start building their resumes before they can even read or write.
But I don’t want to pick on just Manhattan. Our son Michael is in the process of applying to colleges... Let me assure you it is not fun. So much of the process, is focused on grades and scores. Are there enough extra- curriculars? Have you shown leadership? Have you taken the toughest schedule possible? For once again we are told if you don’t get into the right school… well, you know…
It is not just our kids; it’s all of us. As Americans we spend so much time working on our resumes that we sometimes forget to think about what else matters. There is a difference between what David Brooks has so beautifully called “resume virtues vs. eulogy virtues.” The resume virtues are the ones that you bring to the job market and that contribute to your external success: grades, what college you graduated from, your accomplishments at work sales growth achieved, major projects overseen, etc. These are all good and we need them. When I walk through a cemetery, I have never seen on a tombstone “got all 5’s on his AP tests”, or” graduated Stanford”, or “increased sales 30% for 5 straight years”. Or even “was the CEO of ABC corp.”
Eulogy virtues are the things that they will say about you at your funeral, “a loving parent”, “he was kind and generous”, “she was always thinking of others”, “she made us laugh”, “he made us better people”, “she was brave”, “he was honest or faithful”. Eulogy virtues are about your relationships and the kind of person that you are. In Mussar we call these values middot.
When we think about it, eulogy virtues are of ultimate importance, but the sad truth is that most of us, myself included spend way too much time thinking about our resumes and far too little time thinking about our eulogies. Most of us have clear strategies for how to improve our resumes, yet many of us have given little thought to how to improve our character. While ideally we work on our character all year long, during these Yamim Noraim, we especially focus on them.
Rav Joseph Soloveithik was one of the most important Talmudic scholars and Jewish thinkers of the twentieth century. When he spoke people listened. He wrote a very influential book called The Lonely Man of Faith. He writes that there are two stories of creation. In the first story, God creates a human being, male and female God created them in God’s image. In the Second story Adam is created first and then all the animals and finally Eve is taken from Adam’s rib. Soloveithik uses these two stories to argue that these two stories represent the two opposing sides of our nature, which he called Adam 1 and Adam 2.
Brooks, modernizes Soloveitchik’s writing a bit, “Adam I is the career oriented ambitious side of our nature. Adam I is the external resume Adam. Adam I wants to build, create, produce and discover things. He wants to have high status and win victories. Adam II is the internal Adam. Adam II wants to embody certain moral qualities. Adam II wants to have a serene inner character, a quiet but solid sense of right and wrong – not only to do good, but to be good. Adam II wants to love intimately, to sacrifice self in the service of others. While Adam I wants to conquer the world, Adam II wants to serve the world. While Adam I is creative and savors his own accomplishments, Adam II sometimes renounces worldly success and status for the sake of some sacred purpose. While Adam I asks how things work, Adam II asks why things exist and what ultimately we are here for. While Adam I’s motto is “success”, Adam II’s motto is “charity, love and redemption.”
Soloveitchik argues that we are at all times both Adams. Both Adams are in tension throughout our lives. The outer majestic Adam and the inner humble Adam are both within us and are not fully reconcilable. They are in a sense forever “fighting” each other. As Brooks teaches,Adam I believes that effort leads to reward. Practice makes perfect. Impress the world. Adam II lives by a different value you have to give to receive. You have to conquer your desires to get what you crave. For Adam II, success leads to the greatest failure which is pride. Failure leads to the greatest success, which is humility and learning. To nurture your Adam I it makes sense to cultivate your strengths. To nurture your Adam II, it is necessary to confront our weaknesses.
Think about how we define ourselves. When we meet someone for the first time – we ask – what do you do or what type of car do you drive? By their response we immediately measure them. Oh he is a doctor or she is a lawyer, teacher or a film editor. Oh he drives a Prius or she drives a BMW. Based upon your answer I assume things about your income, your success and who you are. But the real question is not “what is your job?” Rather it should be “who are you? Tell me about your Adam II?”
If you go to a party and tell people that your son is a lawyer, or your daughter is a physicist, everyone will be impressed. But if you tell them my son is a mensch or my daughter is a tzedakist, people will look at you quizzically and say “from this you can make a living?’” Try an experiment, next time you go to a party, ask what are your passions, your dreams? What are you most proud of in your life?
Google is a great source of information. According to various google analytics there has been a sharp rise in the usage of Adam I words, individualistic words and phrases like “self” and “personalized”. “I come first and I can do it myself” and a sharp decline in words like community, share, united, and common good. There has been a sharp increase in the use of words having to do with economics and business and decrees in the language of morality and character building. Sadly usage of the word “bravery” has declined by 66% over the course of the twentieth century, “gratitude” is down 49% and “humbleness” is down 52% and “kindness” is down 56%. Adam II language is down significantly.
Adam II, as Brooks suggests, teaches us some key lessons for living a fulfilling life:
1) We don’t live for happiness we live for holiness. Day to day we might seek out pleasure, but we know deep down that what we really seek is meaning, righteousness and virtue. The best life is focused on increasing moral joy, gratitude and inner tranquility.
2) Although we are flawed creatures we are also endowed with the ability to recognize our mistakes and grow because of them. We have the capacity to struggle with ourselves and be better.
3) Humility is the key to personal growth. Humility is having an accurate understanding of who you are - your strengths and your weaknesses. Humility is the realization that you need the help and support of other – that you are not the center of the universe.
4) Adam II is built day by day. Character is built by being willing to confront yourself and struggle against your own weakness. Character, Adam II, is built through hundreds of small acts of self-control.
5) The things that lead us astray are short term gains – lust, fear, gluttony. The things that we call character endure – courage, honesty, humility. Adam II is capable of looking at the long term and heading in that direction. Adam II strives to be with people who are headed in the same direction.
6) No person can achieve self–mastery on their own. We need the support and the honest, loving, character critic from others.
7) The person who struggles against weakness may or may not become rich with dollars, but they will be rich in life. He or she will become mature-they will have a sense of purpose and meaning in their life they will have a sense of inner joy, and quiet a sense of a life well lived.
So how do we work on our Adam II? Jewish tradition suggests that we keep certain questions in mind. Rava, a great Talmudic scholar said: When a person is brought to Final Judgment, he or she will be asked, “Were you honest in business? Did you have fixed times for Torah study? Did you have children? Did you hope for and work for the improvement of the world? Did you use all the mental abilities to achieve wisdom? Did you make creative use of your intellectual powers for the sake of your family, community, humanity?” (Shabbat 31a)
I love this teaching because it so powerfully sums up what is important to us as Jews. It is all about what you did and the impact you had on the world as a human being. Did you grow spiritually emotionally and intellectually – did you work to make the world a better place, did you help to raise a moral next generation morally. Notice Rava doesn’t ask about your career, your check book or the size of your home. Rava reflects the age old line “I have never heard anybody on their death bed say: “I wish I spent more time at the office.”
And that is what these Yamim Noraim, High Holy Days, are all about, they are about confronting our desire to focus on Adam I when we should be working on Adam II. These Yamim Noraim are about recognizing that while I must live in the world of Adam I, it is ultimately much more important for me to develop Adam II. During these days we strive to confront ourselves, our values morals and ideals. During these days we strive to confront our failures, our inner truths, to examine ourselves not in the light of Adam I, of material accomplishment, but rather in terms of Adam II our virtues.
Many people in our congregation are involved with the study of Mussar. What Mussar is at its core is recognizing that we can undergo personnel transformation, we can change. Who we were yesterday is not who we need to be tomorrow. Mussar is about raising ourselves up and focusing on our Adam II. Mussar is a way of life. As Alan Morinis writes “Mussar…. shows us how to realize our highest spiritual potential, including everyday experiences infused with happiness, trust and love.” Mussar reminds us that one of the most important verses in the Torah is kiddoshim tihyu – You shall be holy for I, Adonai your God am holy. We are holy beings because we are human. Holiness is personal and spiritual. Through the practice of Mussar, we can raise ourselves up; we can make ourselves better; we can achieve personal growth and development. Through the study of Mussar we can be in touch with and develop our Adam II, our character traits. Just listen to some of the traits that Mussar offers us an opportunity to work on Humility, Patience, Gratitude, Compassion, Honor, Simplicity, Enthusiasm, Silence, Generosity, Truth, Trust, Faith, Moderation. And when we think about the values – the middot that Mussar helps us to examine and develop they are all Adam II ideals. All of us have work to do in these areas. But Mussar as many of you know recognizes that I cannot do this work by alone. Mussar recognizes that while we are working on ourselves, we need the help of our community to do my self-work. Mussar encourages us to work on ourselves in hevruta, in partnership.
One of the most powerful metaphors of the High Holy Days is the Book of Life. In the Book of life God records and recounts every deed we do. God remembers deeds long forgotten. But the metaphor reminds us that “freely we choose and what we have chosen to become stands in judgement.” We choose what will be written in our book. Each of us is writing our eulogy every day. Ultimately which is more important, your resume or your eulogy. What do you want to be remembered for, what will be your lasting impact on your family and friends? Write in your book of life those things that you want to be remembered for. And may it all be for a blessing.
(Your shopping cart is empty)