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The Wisdom Of Paradox
Tue, 03/04/2014 - 19:00
Special To The Jewish Week
Rabbi David Wolpe
Rabbi David Wolpe

The ancient historian Tacitus recounts that when Jerusalem was conquered and the Roman general Pompey walked into the Holy of Holies in the Temple, he found it empty. Surely this perplexed the future emperor. Uniquely among ancient civilizations, there was no image or picture of God in the Temple. Pompey probably did not know it, but he was witnessing Judaism’s greatest counterintuitive gift to the world.

The wisdom of paradox — that the unseen is real, that less can be more, that silence is eloquent — runs through spiritual life. The arch of Titus depicts the Romans carrying off the goods of the Temple, and surely they must have thought that in their material triumph they were the ultimate victors. But ancient Rome collapsed and the non-material faith of the Jews endured. Paradox, indeed.

We live with all sorts of paradoxes, some of them deep and others simply delightful. When I was a child, I remember listening to the comedian David Brenner say that male mosquitoes buzzed but didn’t bite, so if you were lying in bed and heard a buzzing, relax. Everything was fine. But, he said, female mosquitoes make no sound, and they do bite. So the next time in the dark you hear absolutely nothing...

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe.

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Just one minor factual correction: Pompey never became emperor. Indeed, the position of "emperor" didn't exist until 20 years after his death - Pompey lived during the Republic, and was defeated (by Julius Caesar) and killed in the civil wars that brought the Republic to an end.

are you saying women bite.....?

"Paradox has been defined as "Truth standing on her head to get attention." Paradox has been defended; on the ground that so many fashionable fallacies still stand firmly on their feet, because they have no heads to stand on. But it must be admitted that writers, like other mendicants and mountebanks, frequently do try to attract attention. They set out conspicuously, in a single line in a play, or at the head or tail of a paragraph, remarks of this challenging kind; as when Mr. Bernard Shaw wrote: "The Golden Rule is that there is no Golden Rule"; or Oscar Wilde observed: "I can resist everything except temptation"; or a duller scribe (not to be named with these and now doing penance for his earlier vices in the nobler toil of celebrating the virtues of Mr. Pond) said in defence of hobbies and amateurs and general duffers like himself: "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly." To these things do writers sink; and then the critics tell them that they "talk for effect"; and then the writers answer: "What the devil else should we talk for? Ineffectualness?" G.K. Chesterton