William Hamilton

What does growth look like for her?

My wife Debbie was on the phone in the other room. We were spending a delicious week with our month-old grandson Ethan in Connecticut. Her phone call was a job-reference for a talented teacher she’d been mentoring. Afterwards, she shared a favorite question from the conversation. The potential employer asked, “What does growth look like for her?”

Wow, I smiled. What a terrific question. I tossed back the same wonder-filled gaze that our grandson had been gurgling on his Fisher-Price mat. What does growth look like for a person? For a People?

I like this question so much more than, Tell me, where do you see yourself in 5 years? Or, what are your weaknesses? I like it more because it assumes in-favor-of personal progress.

Often our growth depends on the company we keep. Which is this week’s portion of Torah’s specialty. Bad company, Korah and his cohort, seek to win, to thump, to cancel and vanquish their opponents. Good company, by contrast, like Hillel and Shamma (Avot 5:17) is inviting. You know the difference. The former feels like being lectured at. It’s most unpleasant. The latter is edifying. It can stretch and strengthen you. It deposits you on higher ground, which is the opposite of where Korah’s cohort ends up (Num. 16:30ff).

And good arguments are arguments that are stubborn and fruitful. As Prague’s leading 16th century religious authority, the Maharal, noted, “Curbing the words of your opponent on a religious matter does nothing but curb and make more feeble the religion itself.”

What does growth look like for you? Maybe it looks like relating on a deeper level with what you’re fighting for. Like becoming more intimate with the values you’re being forced to defend. 

Perhaps it’s finding, through today’s pain, a path back to your people’s traditions. Even more personally, it might invite you to consider, Which recent mistake did I learn the most from? 

Consider the question this weekend. What will it look like for you this Summer? Chances are it’ll require a lot of use of the pencil sharpener and its eraser. And this is more than ok. Newborns, after all, aren’t the only ones who get to enjoy growth spurts. 

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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