Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
Over the past several months, I have been given a daily gift. It doesn’t have a monetary value, nor does it come in a big box, but rather it is one of those intangible gifts that just keeps on giving. Recently, I was invited to be part of a group of rabbis through CLAL who are seeking to blend the science of Positive Psychology through Human Flourishing with religion, specifically Judaism, for something now called the Flourishing Project. Our goal is to see if an acute awareness of one’s own Character Strengths, particularly our Signature Strengths, as well as the strengths of those around us, might help us to live better, more fulfilling and thriving lives.
So for the past six months, I have read much about Character Strengths and Positive Psychology; I have visited with the staff of the VIA Character Institute in Cincinnati; I have taken a personal survey to determine my own Signature Strengths; I have encouraged my spouse and children to take the same survey; I have introduced the lessons of Character Strengths into many aspects of my own life, personally and professionally. I have now introduced the lessons of Character Strengths in my own community, from the youngest children in our school to the teens to the Rosh Chodesh women and adult learners.
What have I learned? Far more than I could write in one blog. However, one significant lesson is that we, as individuals, as communities, as countries and as a world, need to stop focusing on our long list of accomplishments, and rather focus on who we are, as we might be defined by our own Signature Character Strengths. The teachings of the VIA Institute are that each of us holds all 24 Character Strengths that they have set forth, but if we can determine our top Character Strengths, and focus on them, and spot them in our own daily routine, in the way we interact with others and in the world around us; if we can find work that allows us to utilize our Signature Strengths; if we can ‘strength-spot’ these strengths in others; if we can stop trying to be someone we are not, and rather be who we are meant to be, then perhaps we will flourish in a way that we never understood.
I think I have a very nice resume. It includes my 11 years of education post high school; my numerous jobs as rabbi and educator in some very prestigious synagogues and Jewish communities; my positions on some important committees and boards; and a variety of publications that I have authored. And I will never again submit such a resume to anyone. I have realized that more important than anything I have done is who I am. I now understand that I am a woman who is motivated by bravery, creativity, forgiveness, perseverance and spirituality. Because of these Signature Strengths, I have been able to accomplish many things, and because of these Signature Strengths, I will continued to be able to accomplish much more. Should you be interested in learning your own Signature Character Strengths, simply go to the VIA Institute website.
There is no question that for the past six months, I have begun to see the world in a new light; I ‘strength-spot’ characteristics in every person I meet, every book I read, every TV show I might watch, every child I teach. My perspective has grown beyond what I could ever have imagined, and I am learning to blend the wisdom of our Jewish heritage with the science of Positive Psychology through Character Strength study. I now understand that who I am far outweighs any one thing or list of things that I may accomplish, and it will be with me from cradle to grave, and every moment along the way, allowing me to live a richer, more meaningful life.