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Editorial & Opinion | Musings

03/01/2011 | | Musings

A charming story from the late, beloved Conservative Rabbi Mordecai Waxman. Once while visiting Greece, he was invited out to dinner. On the way, stopped to buy flowers for his host from a vendor in the street. He asked the price. The vendor said “26 drachmas.” When Rabbi Waxman reached into his wallet to pay him, the vendor said: “That’s not how it works.

02/22/2011 | | Musings

Why is it that when we think badly of others, we are convinced of our smarts? How often have I spoken to someone who interprets another’s actions in a negative light, and when I urge them to consider the positive possibilities, I am answered by an indignant, “Rabbi, do you think I’m stupid?” Somehow believing the worst about another is taken as a sign of intellect; judging others the way the Mishna advises — that is, favorably — is thought gullible and weak-minded.

02/15/2011 | | Musings

Until these past weeks, the only precedent for liberation in Egypt was leaving it. The exodus paradigm of liberation by leaving applies to many parts of life. There are abusive homes where one can only be saved by escape. Throughout history, persecuting nations have made it impossible to seek freedom within their borders; hope lay in running away.

02/01/2011 | | Musings

‘Light is stored up for the righteous,” writes the Psalmist. In the Torah, light is created on the first day. Yet the sun is not fashioned until the fourth day. The Rabbis teach that the light of the first day is a mystical light; one day it will be liberated by our goodness.

01/25/2011 | | Musings

During the kedusha, the central moment in the Jewish prayer service, we stand with feet together and say, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts.” Rising on our toes, we pattern ourselves on the angels of Isaiah’s vision. Do we wish to be angels? The answer is yes. And no.

Angels do have some advantages. They do not sin. They dwell in ethereal realms with God. In Hebrew, the word for angel is mal’ach, which means messenger. In the Bible angels are messengers of God.

01/18/2011 | | Musings


I read the newspaper each day, an old practice that brings home everything new. There is always a new celebrity, a new invention, a burgeoning business. We can stuff ourselves with the new. Old books and movies are forgotten unless they are remade.

Judaism has a different attitude toward what is old. Our tradition always understood that the first step to obliterating culture is to foreshorten memory. Here is a poignant passage from a not-so-very-old novel, Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”: