Rounding the Square


The 77% Weekly

The 40/52 weeks-a-year, spiritual-religious newsletter 

07/40 From Rabbi Brian

Rounding the Square.

Today’s newsletter has one story and two bits of spiritual-religious advice.


 The Story


When he was a toddler, my son, my gorgeous, beautiful guy, did something that we all do.


But before I tell you what he did, I must give you some background on his particular set of choo-choo tracks.


His train tracks were comprised of a series of individual pieces – some round, others straight. The straight ones made longer tracks and the round ones to made curves.


I had set up 12 rounded tracks in circular formation, like a big clock. Each rounded part made up about 1/12 of the entire circle. All pieces were put together correctly, forming a seamless, circular miniature railroad for my son’s trains.


Well, Emmett decided he wanted to take out one of the circular pieces of the choo-choo track, and substitute it with one of the straight pieces.


Of course, that didn’t work. The straight piece didn’t fit.  

And Emmett became hysterical!


There was no consoling him. He cried and fussed for what seemed like hours. (It was at most 20 minutes.) I tried to calm him, but could not.



Moral #1  


Now you and I, as adults (or at least as individuals having basic knowledge of geometry), know that you can’t take a curved piece out of the circle, and substitute it with a straight piece – it just won’t fit. The connecting pieces cannot lock together. They are physically incompatible.

Rabbi Brian

Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer is the founder of Religion-Outside-The-Box.

Shortly after he was ordained as a rabbi, he left mainstream congregational life to encourage people to find and be with (the) God (of their understanding) through podcasts, books, tweets, and internet-based seminars.  

His day job is teaching advanced mathematics to Los Angeleno High School students. The rest of the time is with his family. 

The next rabbibrian.com Meaningful Talk on a Topic that Matters will be on 3/3/12.

The topic will be:

Oh, boy!




As the saying goes, you cannot fit a square peg into a round hole.


Granted, you and I don’t play with choo-choo train tracks on a regular basis (unless it’s with our kids), but you knew this story wasn’t really about choo-choo tracks, right?


Emmett’s behavior applies to us as adults.


To some degree, we have all tried to make something work, when it clearly wouldn’t work.


We’ve all been on both sides of the problem:

  • Sometimes we insist the straight piece will fit where the curved piece belongs. I often think that my solution to a problem, even if it has been proven not to work, is still the right solution.
  • Sometimes we watch our loved ones insist the straight piece will fit where the round piece goes. For example, we hear someone insist they can eat doughnuts and still lose weight.

Spiritual-religious piece of advice #1: Be aware of when you’re trying to force a straight piece into the place where a round piece belongs.



The Story Continues

Continuing on from the story above… 


I was  upset that I was not able to mollify my son.  


Later that evening, I asked Jane (who is often more adept at parenting than I am), “What did I do wrong?”


She, a wise therapist, said, “Sometimes, people just need to cry — to mourn their losses.”



Moral #2


Emmett was just upset. Perhaps he just found out that the physical world has limitations.  


I simply needed to let him do his thing, allow him to engage in his tantrum, and he would have eventually gotten through it on his own — which is exactly what he did.


I’m not advocating parental neglect. (It would have been wrong for me to go into the other room while Emmett cried.) Rather, I’m suggesting we as parents be present — be there with our kids as they work through their feelings.


Here’s the thing: my trying to explain to Emmett why the track pieces weren’t fitting together didn’t help anyone.


There’s a great quote from Shimon ben Elazar in a wisdom section of the Talmud called Pirkei Avot (4:23):

Do not appease your friend in his time of anger; do not comfort him while the dead is still laid out before him; do not question him in the hour of his vow; and do not strive to see him in his hour of misfortune.


We must simply allow that person to be where they are. Even if their discomfort discomforts us.   


The only way to so this is for us to surrender our desire to control them and the world. (Sorry, but it’s true.)


Spiritual-religious piece of advice #2: Don’t try to talk or take someone out of his or her anguish.

With love,

Rabbi Brian

Rabbi Brian 

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I thank you. -Rb 

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