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Getting To Know The Generalist

“If you try to be everything to everybody, you wind up being nothing to nobody.”

I hate this expression. It might be because I so badly want to be everything to everybody. Unfortunately, there is truth to it; if I am constantly trying to be what others expect of me, then I will never actually have any substance of my own.

The problem is, I am in a field where we actively try to serve every person who sits in front of us. As a rabbi, I am in the business of making the largest percentage of people feel comfortable in my community, generally with very little time to build a connection.

It doesn’t help that, in the world of Jewish knowledge, it is impossible to know everything, despite the expectation to the contrary. We are supposed to be scholars of Torah, or Talmud, of every Jewish artist and every book with Jewish themes. One of my rabbinic heroes, Rabbi David Wolpe, once described a rabbi as a “too short table cloth,” meaning that if we tug at the corners to try to cover more ground, we wind up leaving another area exposed. At a certain point, we have to agree to our own limitations.

This runs in perfect parallel with the constant stream of information that the modern human being encounters. Our technology makes it so that we can read every book, skim every headline, watch every movie, and listen to every song, all from the device in our pocket. Media are supposed to be the way we share the experience of life to better understand one another. It is so much harder when we can’t possibly keep up with the torrent of data we have to collect.

While we’re on the topic of popular aphorisms, there’s another one that we often quote, but only partially. The common expression is, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” This seems to be what we’re talking about, isn’t it? When you try to be overly relatable, you wind up actually having no significant depth. Except we need to read the idea in full. Because the true quote is: “Jack of all trades, master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.” The people who invest in knowing a lot of different things generally wind up being more relatable, more accessible, and more interesting. Depth is cool, but breadth is an excellent foot in the door with just about anyone.

I’m in the business of taking care of people and hearing their stories. This, after all, is what made me fall in love with this work: I love stories. I love the way we share them, the way they impact us. Which is why I am starting a new blog series. The Generalist is an attempt to explore the variety of areas where we connect on a cultural basis. In this project, we’re going to review and discuss the relevance of some of our world’s most popular stories, in whatever form they come. The ultimate goal is that, over the course of the blog, we will get to see how we can relate to one another and broaden our understandings of how we interact. I’m going to review books, movies, music, plays, experiences, places, and more. The goal is not to encapsulate all of humanity; after all, that simply isn’t possible. But, as we continue to see the beauty that is contained in our world, my hope is that we will find new and uplifting ways to engage with the influx of information that comes across our path.

At the end of the day, I love people, and I love connecting with people about things that they love. And I want to share with you some of the things that I read, watch, do, and hear, in order that we might be able to enjoy our shared humanity together.

Check back in on Friday for the first review of The Generalist.


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