Seeing something I have written in print always evokes the wish that I could snatch the words back, if only for a moment, to correct or change them. Manuscripts of notable novels and poems are almost always indecipherable squiggles, cross-outs, arrows, editing marks. Second, third and fourth thoughts are essential for clarity and elegance of expression. As the great Thomas Mann put it, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
Have you ever climbed to the top of a tell? A tell is a pile of old civilizations, massed atop each other. Such hills mark the landscape of Israel, reminding us that civilization is less about building than about rebuilding.
The Talmud teaches, “Everything is in the hands of heaven except reverence for heaven (Berachot 33b).” In other words, there is much we do not choose in this world, but we do choose our posture toward what we are given. For a characteristically wise and elegant formulation of this, listen to the words of the superlative essayist, Joseph Epstein:
Could the formula for advancing American political life have been developed in the 16th century, in the small mystical community of Safed in Israel? There, the kabbalist Shlomo Alkabetz wrote the hymn “Lecha Dodi” sung each Friday night as we greet the Sabbath. The next to last verse begins: “Break out, right and left.”
Each morning a father enters our morning minyan with his two daughters. Before he drops them off at our school, he and his daughters put some money in the tzedakah box. One morning another worshiper, Norm Pell, approached me and reminded me of a beautiful midrash. When the women and men of Israel gave tzedakah, what did their children do? They watched, and learned what it is to help those in need.
God’s first words to the prophet Ezekiel are: “Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak to you” (Ezek. 2:1). Reaching our full human height we are most ready to encounter God.
When a Jew has suffered a loss and tears a garment in mourning, the tearing takes place while the mourner stands upright. Confronting the pain and puzzlement of loss, standing upright signifies dignity and hope.