An old and venerable Jewish joke: Rabbi Cohen answers his phone.
“Hello?” “Hello, is this Rabbi Cohen?” “Yes, it is. “This is the Internal Revenue Service. Do you have a congregant named Samuel P. Schwartz?” “Yes I do.” “Did he in fact donate $25,000 to the synagogue building fund?”
‘Well,” said my father, smiling at me in the middle of an argument, “I wouldn’t say you are wrong, but you aren’t right.” All of us seek a balance when we criticize others, or at least we should. Here are five tentative rules for offering criticism:
A disciple of the Baal Shem Tov yearned to meet Elijah, herald of redemption. The Baal Shem Tov told him it could happen. All he needed to do was to go to the home of a very poor but pious family that lived in the forest, bring them food and wine for Rosh HaShanah, eat and pray with them, and at the end of the holiday Elijah would appear.
Upon learning he is to have a child, Manoah father of Samson, speaks for all parents when he cries out to God, “What shall we do with the child who will be born to us?” (Judges 13:8). Each generation wonders — what is the best way to raise children, and what ought we to be teaching them?
Why is the confessional on Yom Kippur in the plural? There are many answers to this question, because on some level it seems inappropriate to take upon ourselves sins we have not committed. Why should admit to things of which we are guiltless?
In explaining anti-Semitism, Maurice Samuel once wrote, “No one likes his alarm clock.” He believed that the fate of the Jews provided an early warning signal to humanity, which resented the awakening, however necessary.
Donald Rumsfeld famously said: “As we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
On Aug. 21, 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre. During the 2 ½-year period before it was recovered and restored to the museum, more people came to stare at the empty space where the famous masterpiece once hung than visited in the 10 preceding years to view the painting itself.
There are always reasons to be afraid. The prevalence of danger can be incapacitating. The same inaction that afflicts a frightened individual can befall a people: Then optimism is really fear in disguise, and indolence is the result of feeling paralyzed by the possibilities of failure.