Editorial & Opinion | Musings

12/24/2013 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Musings

When the Torah reading is completed in most synagogues, the scroll is held aloft and the congregation chants, “This is the Torah that Moses placed before the children of Israel” (Deuteronomy 4:44). Ashkenazim add “at the Lord’s bidding through Moses” (Numbers 9:23). In Sephardic synagogues, the scroll is generally raised before, not after, the reading.

12/18/2013 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Musings

The mystics speak of tzimtzum, withdrawal or contraction. God, who fills all, contracts into God’s self to allow space for the world to be created. Tzimtzum is a concept in theological physics, teaching what it means to limit oneself to enable creation.

12/11/2013 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Musings

The law of life is limitation. Our world is infinitely rich but our lives are not endless, so we have to decide what to cherish, what to discard, what to bypass, what to hold close. You can devote your life to a person, a cause, a craft, a quest, an institution, a dream, but you cannot do all at once. As Job says, “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle” (Job 7:6).

One way to judge priorities is to fast-forward: at the end of life, what would you be proud to have done? Writing a premature eulogy that turns into a life agenda is a useful exercise.

12/04/2013 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Musings

In Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” General Kutuzov exasperates his comrades by refusing to take action Napoleon. “Maneuver,” they urge him, “outflank, attack!” But the general, except for ordering an occasional retreat, insists on doing as close to nothing as he can. Napoleon, on the other hand, is a frenzy of activity. As a result, his supply lines are overextended, and the Russian winter devastates his army. Failing to lure the czar’s troops into a decisive confrontation, he is forced to withdraw, beaten, back to France. Tolstoy summarizes Kutuzov’s philosophy as “the less you do, the less you err.”

11/27/2013 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Musings

Moses says to the Israelites, “When you enter the land that I am giving you” (Numbers 15:2). Yet he is speaking to a generation that will not in fact enter the land. They will die in the desert. Rashi tells us that he is giving an assurance of eventual entrance, but what assurance can there be to those who will not live to see it?

11/20/2013 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Musings

Years ago I heard a story about the remarkable Ben Hecht, creator of the screwball comedy, writer extraordinaire, acrobat, violinist and passionate defender of Jews in World War II and Israel. When the state was founded, Hecht found himself in the office of a Jewish mogul raising money for Israel.