Tales from the Tayelet: The Work of our Lives

We learn from many sources.At the beginning we learned from our parents. They taught us right from wrong, the good from the bad. Later we went to school to learn from the learned knowledge we would need to get by in life. We have been taught via the media be it through books, movies, newspapers, television and the like. But the greatest teacher available to us is life itself. All the other sources of learning are essentially intellectual. The lessons life teaches are gleaned by dint of experience. All the other sources make us smart. The lessons life teaches make us wise. And wisdom is priceless.

Ask yourself, “What have I learned today?” I am not referring to the Talmud class you may have attended or the professional journal you reviewed. I am not referring to the article you read in the newspaper on some interesting subject. True those may impart information, but i am referring to what your “I” has learned, knowledge that touches your sense of who you are and how you see the world, knowledge that when allowed to deepen becomes wisdom.

A great modern rabbi once wrote, “Every day we have at least five experiences that, if we will be but mindful, have something important to teach us about ourselves and the other. The trick is to be mindful so that we do not miss the moment.

Life learning is a call to consciousness. It requires that we be aware of ourselves and watch our process. It begs us to be curious about how and why we do and feel the way we do.

To make the point I share something that happened to me yesterday, I found myself at a job interview with two others, both men, one 25, the other 35, and me near 70. It was a group interview. The interviewer was of similar age to the 35 year old. The interviewer posed a series of questions for each of us to respond to, “What’s your favorite song from the 90s?” “What’s your favorite TV show?” etc. Not surprisingly, I had no favorite song from the 90s. I don’t know the songs of the era. Try the 70s maybe. And as for a TV show. I don’t watch TV. I could only name “Seinfeld”. Naturally I cultivated little rapport with the interviewer and together with the twenty five year old got weeded out of the process.

My initial reaction to the experience was that it was highly unfair. I had no chance to succeed. I was irritated and yes a bit angry. On reflection I thought there is a lesson in this experience that’s worth learning. And I don’t mean brush up on 90s music. The lesson is that people who are of different age are not only separated by years. They are separated by culture and by a way of seeing the world. Thirty years between people of the same language and ethnic background can be as big a divide as one being black from Nigeria and the other white from New Zealand. And if it was true that I felt misunderstood and not appreciated in the job interview, how often does it occur that I am insensitive in my encounters with those either older or younger than me and make judgements about them based on cultural values that do not really reflect the truth of their goodness or otherwise?

To learn from life we need to be curious about ourselves and others and not judgemental. We need to not beat ourselves up for behaviors we are not happy about but rather to ask ourselves in genuine surprise “Why did I just do or feel what I did?” “How am I like other? and how different? and why?”

Each day we are offered a priceless gift in the wisdom life can teach us. If you believe, the experiences we have are God given gifts so we can glean the knowledge we are meant to learn and turn it into our wisdom. All we require is the mindfulness to reflect on our experiences and the curiosity that allows us to explore and understand rather than judge ourselves and the other.

L’chayim! To life! Indeed!

About the Author
Yisrael Ben Yosef holds Masters degrees in both Philosophy and in Education from the University of Western Ontario. He was a former Supervisor of Clinical Pastoral Education. He founded and served as Director of the Jewish Institute for Pastoral Care in New York City. He has authored two books "Whence My Help Come:Caregiving in the Jewish Tradition" and "The Torah and the Self", both published by Mazo Press, Jerusalem.