Ottenstein: Pay Attention to Needs Around Us
OpinionThe View From Up North

Ottenstein: Pay Attention to Needs Around Us

A culture of giving can be created all year, not just as the deadline for tax deductions approaches.

Rabbi Jordan Ottenstein

One of my favorite phrases in Hebrew is sim lev, which translates to “pay attention” but literally means “give your heart.”

For when we truly pay attention, it is important to give our heart to the other. It is the only way that we can truly be aware of the world around us and create holy and meaningful relationships. As Martin Buber teaches in “I and Thou,” “Relation is reciprocity. My You acts on me as I act on it. Our students teach us, our works form us.”

In other words, when we truly pay attention to those around us, to the other, we can strive for a reciprocal relationship based on understanding, compassion and even love.

But to truly sim lev, to truly pay attention to the world around us, we must not only focus on creating relationships with others. We must be willing to open up and give our hearts to the world.

The Hebrew language is teaching us that it is also important to pay attention to where we give of our hearts.

As the previous year was coming to a close, I, along with many of you, received countless letters and postcards from worthy organizations around the community and around the country, asking for year-end gifts. My wife and I took these letters, sat down and discussed which ones we would support and by how much.

And yet, if we truly think about the needs of our community, we know that they do not only exist from Thanksgiving until Jan. 1. There are needs in our community year-round; we only need to sim lev, to pay attention, and to give our hearts.

Whether it is your synagogue, other institutions in the Jewish community, or charities and service organizations around Atlanta and the country, it is important to remember that, as we open our hearts to the world around us, we can find ways to create a culture of giving: the giving of our money and time, to be sure, but also the giving of our hearts.

For when we create this culture of giving, we can help eliminate the problems our friends, neighbors, synagogues, institutions and community are facing. We can pay attention to the needs of others around us and work in this new year of 2018 to give our hearts to the tasks of pursuing justice, making sure our community is taken care of and paying attention to those around us.

Rabbi Jordan M. Ottenstein is the senior rabbi at Congregation Dor Tamid.

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