Musings

So Near, So Far

08/02/2011
Special To The Jewish Week

In his book “Ambition,” Joseph Epstein points out that a large percentage of tax fraud is reported by the business associates and “friends” of the offenders. Indignation is peaked most often by those with whom we are close. As comedian Kathy Landsman says, holidays when we gather with our families are “chances to renew resentments afresh.”

Pay Attention!

07/26/2011
Special To The Jewish Week

‘I shall not die but live and recount the deeds of God.” So reads Psalm 118. Is it redundant? Obviously if one does not die, one lives. Yet life is not living; people die while still alive. The point is not simply to draw breath, but to live. Stephen Vincent Benet wrote: “Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand small uncaring ways.”

Arguably, A Mitzvah

07/19/2011
Special To The Jewish Week

Jewish tradition is full of argument, but argument is not its essence. Judaism is a system devoted to the sacred deed.

Mitzvot in all their array — ritual, ethical, colorful, mundane, God-directed, human-centered -- mitzvot are the central stuff of Judaism. What cannot be said can be enacted. The meaning of Shabbat candles is ultimately inexpressible; lighting is the language of ritual, at once less articulate and yet deeper than any words.

Getting Beyond Ourselves

07/12/2011

‘Prayer is made of attention. It is the direction towards God of all the attention that the soul is capable of. The quality of the attention makes for much of the quality of the prayer. It cannot be replaced by the heart’s warmth.” This comment by Simone Weil reminds us that prayer is not essentially request or routine, but kavanah, focus, intensity, intention. It is the soul’s upward climb.

Win Win

07/05/2011

How do you win? Is it the patient accumulation of small advantages or the masterstroke? Singles or a home run? The daily performance of mitzvot or a last, heroic gesture that redeems a life?

Prayer, In Itself, Is The Bargain

06/28/2011
Special To The Jewish Week

A man was circling an office building, late for a meeting that could change his life. But he could not find a place to park. He said “God, if you get me a parking place I promise I will keep kosher, I will be better to my wife and children, I will attend services on Shabbat, I will...” Just at that moment, a spot opened right in front of the building.

“Never mind” he said, “I’m good.”

Everyone Sings

06/21/2011

Perek Shira, “chapter of song,” is a beautiful Midrash. Attaching an appropriate verse to the elements of Creation, it recounts how everything in the world sings: the lion sings, and the stars, and the trees. The medieval Christian spiritualist Thomas à Kempis beautifully wrote: “If you cannot sing like the nightingale and the lark, then sing like the crows and the frog, which sing as God meant them to.” This is the lesson of Perek Shira — all of Creation bears a song.

Don’t Stoop To Conquer

06/14/2011

The documentary “Precious Life” tells of Israeli Dr. Roz Somech’s saving the life of an infant whose mother then insists she would be proud if the boy grew up to be a suicide bomber. It put me in mind of what the English historian Thomas Macaulay called the finest sentence ever written.

It is found in Julius Caesar’s answer to Cicero. Cicero wrote to express thanks for the compassion the conqueror displayed toward political adversaries who fell into his power at the surrender of Corfinium. The sentence Macaulay so admired reads:

A Lesson Before Dying

06/07/2011

Final blessings play an important part in the Torah. At the conclusion of Genesis, Jacob offers his words to his children — each of the future tribes of Israel. Moses offers his final blessings to Israel at the conclusion of Deuteronomy. When the Torah tells us that Moses could no longer, at the end of his life, “go in and go out” (Deut. 31), one lovely interpretation holds that he went to the tent of each individual Israelite family and said goodbye.

The Peril Of Anger

05/31/2011
Special To The Jewish Week

Anger, say the Sages, is like a bubbling pot; you cannot tell where it will spill or whom it will scald. Anger knots the stomach, heats the head and forces cruel words from our mouths. When our anger calms we cannot always believe what we have done in moments of rage.

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