William Hamilton
William Hamilton


Are you better off today than you were last year?  Are you safer, more prosperous, happier?  Whether you answer based upon clear metrics or gut feelings, such questions tend to focus upon results. 

Result-oriented thinking surfaces in a curious passage from this week’s portion of Torah.  How can we know if a prophet is true or false?  The answer is outcome-based. “How can we know if something spoken by a prophet did not come from the Lord? If the thing won’t be and won’t come to pass, then it is something that God did not say” (Deut. 18:21-22).  Obviously an oracle’s authenticity depends on whether it comes to pass.  But there may be another way to appraise an outcome – by the kind of conduct it generates.

Perhaps we can measure the integrity of a hopeful promise not by what comes of it, but by what comes of us because of it.  Maybe it’s less about credibility than about influence.  Results may be less about the performance-record of the promiser than they are about the impact of her or his promise on people’s behavior.

Earlier this week I attended a moving Graduation ceremony for the fourth cohort of Desert Stars, an inspiring Israeli initiative designed to generate responsible leadership for a new generation of Bedouins.  I asked Sami, a graduate from an earlier cohort, “Do young people from your community still dream?”  “Of course,” he replied, “but they give up on their dreams when they don’t come to pass.  They don’t realize how much planning, effort, and resilience are needed to realize dreams.”

Such wisdom points to one more lesson concerning outcome-based thinking: don’t appraise too soon.  Finals should not be confused with Midterms.  Perseverance can generate a sweep of fresh influence.   

As we prepare to ascend to the Holy Days of Tishre, may a spirit of responsibility and elasticity enable us to turn results into launch pads for a safer and sweeter year ahead.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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