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Editorial & Opinion | Musings

11/01/2011 | | Musings

We go to the Internet for information. The range of reference at our fingertips is astonishing. We have too many places to get answers. But one reads, wrote Franz Kafka, to ask questions. 

Where can a reader go for good questions? One place is the prayerbook. Early in the morning service is a series of powerful questions: “What are we?” “What is our life?” What is our righteousness?” At the outset of the service each morning we are invited to question the very fundamentals of our lives.

10/25/2011 | | Musings

Our morning prayers offer a series of questions followed by a startling declaration: “The advantage of man over beast is nothing because all is vanity.” At first this seems to mean that since all die, human and beast, nothing really matters. But here are two other ways of understanding this statement, the second of which solves a difficult problem in the beginning of the Torah.

10/18/2011 | | Musings

The Torah has been described in many ways: a love letter, a ketubah, one long poem, a mystic message of black-on-white fire, a compendium of law and story, a family diary, the foundation stone of Israel, a written assurance of God’s love. Turn it over and over, the Rabbis advise us, for everything is in it.

10/11/2011 | | Musings

In this holiday season, when we recite Yizkor, Jews are particularly concerned with memory. We remember those who have touched our lives and those whose glow continues even after they are gone, as a star illuminates the earth after its destruction. We are stardust in both senses: in a literal, physical sense, and in the sense that we are the product of people’s influence, stars we knew and those we did not know, whose glow enlivens us.

10/04/2011 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Musings

Human gestures are almost always ambiguous. A man with hands raised toward the sky could be praying, cheering or the victim of a hold up. Without the context and the intention, one cannot know.

So what are we doing when we beat our chests in the confessional of Yom Kippur? Is it self-punishment, an attempt through a long day to keep ourselves awake akin to slapping one’s own face, or perhaps ritual theater? 

09/27/2011 | | Musings

‘What do you do,” Mr K. was asked, “if you love someone?” “I make a sketch of that person,” said Mr. K., “and make sure that one comes to resemble the other.” “Which? The sketch?” “No,” said Mr. K., “the person.”