Remembering The Dream

Rabbi Jonathan Bubis // Erev Rosh Hashanah 5778

At the end of the sixth day, God created human beings in God’s image. God blessed them, saying “Be fertile and multiply, fill the earth and conquer it. Rule over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the sky, and all living creatures that crawl on the earth. I give to you all the seed bearing plants on the earth, and every tree that has fruit is there for you to eat.”

The human being named Adam heard what God had said and thought to himself, “Wow, that’s pretty amazing. I’m made in the image of God, the master of the whole world! I’m going to live up to my heritage.  Just as God has created, I’m going to create too. Just as God is the Ruler of the universe, I’m going to rule over all the animals of the earth, as God instructed. And just as God has an imprint on every single thing on earth, I’m going to put my imprint on earth too.”

And that’s exactly what Adam did. He enlisted his associate, Eve to help him make their surroundings to their liking: they manicured the bushes and trimmed the trees to make them as beautiful as possible. They cut down wood to make their own private abode. They tamed all the beasts and gave them names. They spent their hours using their superior intellect and skillful dexterity to put their permanent imprint on the world. And through their efforts they felt powerful and important, like God.

But sometimes, about once a week, as they were sleeping, Adam would have a recurring dream in which in his sleep, a rib was removed from his body and fashioned into his associate, Eve. The dream would startle him awake, leaving him feeling a strong connection to Eve, and a longing for companionship. Waking up each time after the dream, he saw Eve in a new light, no longer as an associate to help him in his work, but a person he loved and cared for. With a newfound sensitivity, he became aware that every living creature was precious, and enjoined it upon himself to preserve the beautiful things around him and protect them. Heart open,  Adam also yearned to be in relationship with the One who made him.

But sometimes, about once a week, as they were sleeping, Adam would have a recurring dream in which in his sleep, a rib was removed from his body and fashioned into his associate, Eve. The dream would startle him awake, leaving him feeling a strong connection to Eve, and a longing for companionship. Waking up each time after the dream, he saw Eve in a new light, no longer as an associate to help him in his work, but a person he loved and cared for. With a newfound sensitivity, he became aware that every living creature was precious, and enjoined it upon himself to preserve the beautiful things around him and protect them. Heart open,  Adam also yearned to be in relationship with the One who made him.

But after several days, Adam forgot the dream, and continued his work to make a name for himself.

This story is based on an interpretation of the creation narratives illustrated in Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s masterpiece, Lonely Man of Faith. Soloveitchik asserts that the two creation stories in the first two chapters of Genesis offer two contradictory images of Adam. The first, which he calls Adam I or the “majestic man,” is the one who’s sole mission is to produce and conquer. His relationships with others are transactional in nature, focused on helping him achieve his goals. The second, which he terms Adam II, or “redemptive Adam,” centers his existence through spiritual companionships with the others in the garden, and service to the One who put him in the garden in the first place. Adam II is the psychologically, spiritually oriented person whose soul is nurtured in genuine relationship with others.

Two images of Adam, both found within each and every one of us. And the alarming thing for me is, I came to the conclusion that I am all too often Adam I.

How so? Who is Adam I? Adam I represents the part of us that wants to have things “just ‘right’”; Adam I is dominant when we have a specific picture in our head of what something should look like and we go to great lengths to manifest that picture, even if it means neglecting our needs, even if it means ignoring others, or using them for purely utilitarian purposes. It’s when we focus on the product, the result, the outcome, oftentimes to the exclusion of all else.

How did many of us come to have such strong Adam I tendencies? By the way, before I continue, Adam, according to rabbinic commentary, was originally both male and female, so Adam as a metaphor can and should be applied to people of all genders.

Ok, why are so many of us so Adam I-like so much of the time? Psychologists tell us that it starts in our childhood. From a young age, parents and teachers urge us to become high achievers. We learn early on that the way to gain success and the way to please others is by delivering high-quality results. The only way to get the gold star and the pat on the shoulder is to get the grade.

Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Working hard and accomplishing much are valuable traits, for sure.

But they also sometimes come at a cost. It can often mean that we who are more like Adam I, tie our inherent worth to what we achieve. And when we don’t achieve our high standard, it can lead to feelings of never being good enough.

Being like Adam I can also lead to shutting people down, or shutting them out. When our focus is on the work, on doing, it can mean we think less about the people we do the work with, or the people who wait for us after work.

I’m here to publicly admit tonight that I am often Adam I. I specifically notice this tendency while doing the work I love to do most, creating. As many of you know, I like to make music and do creative writing, stuff like Storahtelling, which you should totally come to see tomorrow morning, by the way, the actors are fabulous.

When I am creating and something comes out that is not “just so,” it hurts my sense of self, because sometimes my self-worth is tied to what I produce.

And what’s worse, when I am creating with others, and someone else does something that is not exactly like the picture I have in my head of what it should be, I respond in ways that may be hurtful. Like that time I joined forces with my sister to write a parody for a family member’s birthday and we had “creative differences.”  Even though I knew in the back of my head that the whole point was for us to come together, have a fun time, and celebrate family, I ended up responding in an overly harsh way - because in the moment the rhyme scheme in that one line in the parody was the most important thing, so much so that I lost sight of the person sitting right in front of me. Sometimes my instinct tells me to perfect the product, while the people producing it are secondary.

It’s a part of who I am that I am not proud of, and that I’m working on. And my guess is there may be others in this room who struggle with the same inclinations.

And you know what? We see this trend in society at large, too - don’t we? We see it schools that are curriculum focused more than student-focused, schools that care more about what is being taught than who is being taught, more about what students achieve than who students are. No wonder we see so many students cheating on tests and plagiarizing on papers. If it’s the result that matters, who cares how they get there?

We see this same trend in companies and organizations that care about the product and the profitmore than the producers. That’s why we hear so many horror stories in the news about things like the deplorable working conditions of factory workers for clothing manufacturers. If the jeans are cheaper, who cares about the people in the dangerous factories who made them?

And yes, we see this trend even in our beloved non-profit organizations, sometimes more than for-profit companies. David La Piana, a leading nonprofit strategy expert, writes about something he calls the “nonprofit paradox,” the tendency for some organizations to “recreate within their own organizational cultures the problems they are trying to solve in society.”

Like the environmental organization fighting to save forests and reduce greenhouse gas emissions while mailing hundreds of paper fundraising solicitations and taking dozens of unneeded flights for meetings. Or the nonprofit whose mission it is to eliminate child abuse that has an abusive, power hungry CEO.

People who work in the nonprofit sector are often referred to as ‘servants’ of the community. Yet all too many of them are not served themselves with living wages, reasonable benefits and retirement packages.

You know, it tells us in the Talmud that a Torah scholar who is not tocho k’varo, who’s inside doesn’t match her outside, should not be considered a true Torah scholar. Meaning, our outer expressions of righteousness, ought to match our inner virtuousness.

How can do we make ourselves, our schools, our companies, our organizations tocho k’varo? How can our outer appearances of order, creativity, and moral fortitude match what’s happening on the inside as well, when the curtain is pulled open? How do we actually care about what we say we care about?

I think we’ll have to start by bringing more of Adam II’s spirit into our lives.  The one who worries less about achieving, but thrives by being in relationship. Adam II represents those parts of us that not only worry about what’s in our heads, but also wants to explore what’s in people’s hearts and tap into their souls.

How do we bring more of that Adam II consciousness into our lives? According to Rabbi Shai Held of Mechon Hadar, it starts with what we teach our children.  In his Eli Talk on compassion, Rabbi Held asserts that children must be taught, and teachers must truly believe, that caring for others is as important, if not more important, than what they achieve. Parents should be taught to instill the notion in their children that “how much kindness you do is so much more important than how well you do on your SATs or whether you end up at an Ivy League School.” Dr. Bruce Powell, the Founder and Head of De Toledo Jewish Community High School in Los Angeles, puts it this way. “I don’t care if you’re a PHD, if you’re a SOB.”

One of our good family friends really took this to heart for her children. She made up a system with her kids called sticker-tunities. This is how it worked. The kids would get a sticker, not if they did their chores, not if they did their homework, but if they performed a random act of kindness for someone else, unprompted.  Now that’s what I like to call parenting.

Feeling compassion for others and expressing that in our actions should be valued just as much, or even more than what we produce.We are seeing a turn towards this in business. According to Paul Argenti, Professor of corporate communications and one of the most influential writers on business ethics, “Corporate Social Responsibility is now in high demand by investors, customers, and employees of large companies.” Meaning, corporations are thinking more about how they treat people working for them, how they contribute to their communities and how they affect the planet, in addition to how much profit they make. They’re also increasingly concentrating on building an attractive company culture for their employees, with catered meals and yoga classes, community events and a team-oriented work environment with fewer levels of hierarchy. Ok, yes: these changes do also happen to be good for business. But at least I would like to think they come from a genuine call for more ethical behavior.

But so how do we truly change the culture in our workplaces, in our homes, and in our hearts to one in which we really care?

We remember the dream that Adam once had, that we are in fact connected to each other on a very fundamental level. That we come from the same source and are made of the very same stuff.

We are called to remember that dream once a week, on a day called Shabbat. Shabbat, says Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, is the day we become aware of the dream of a better reality, one that recognizes the inherent dignity and divinity of every human being. On that day, as Rabbi Sharon Brous puts it, “we reawaken the part of ourselves that may have forgotten that we are more than our work.”

Don’t get me wrong- I’m not saying work is a bad thing. In fact, we are commanded to work for six days. Working and creating are part of recognizing that we are made in God’s image.  But, to be honest, I think we in San Francisco and in the United States, get the whole work thing. We got Adam I down.

Yes, we’re charged to work like God; but we’re also told to rest like God. On the seventh day, Torah tells us that God shavat, vayinafash, God “ceased, and rested,” or literally, God ceased and re-nefeshed, re-ensouled. Shabbat is our opportunity to remember our souls and the souls of everyone around us. Shabbat is our reminder to take with us for the rest of the week that everyone has a divine spark.

So in the midst of our small interactions with people during the week, let’s build a consciousness to pay attention to the person right in front of us more than the idea in our heads.

Let’s eat dinner with our families and really talk, and resist our urge to think about the to-do-list.

Let’s strike up a small conversation with the barista at the counter or our Lyft driver and treat them like a human being, not just someone we’re talking to for a particular purpose

Let’s express appreciation for the work our co-workers are doing, and when our idea on a project is not gelling with theirs, add to their ideas instead of shutting them down.

Let’s commit to having this year be the year of alignment – bringing together Adam I and Adam II. This Rosh Hashanah, on the anniversary of the sixth day of creation when God created the human being, Let’s become human-centered and design our communities to celebrate people in addition to the programs or products we make.  Because when we do, that’s when we will stop associating our self-worth with what we accomplish. That’s when we will no longer feel that we’re never good enough. That’s when we will know that who we are and how we treat others, is more important than what we achieve. That’s when we will remember the dream.