Musings

Freedom In The Land Of The Pharaohs?

02/15/2011

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.

Lighting The Way

02/01/2011

‘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.

Rising Up

01/25/2011

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.

In The New Year, Look To The Old

01/18/2011

 

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”:

In The New Year, Look To The Old

01/11/2011

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”:

Everyday Sacredness

01/04/2011

In life the everyday mixes with the eternal. Is it holy to sit on a committee or sacred to oversee synagogue budgets? This problem disturbed the great English constitutionalist, Walter Bagehot. In a memorable passage he writes: “There seems to be an unalterable contradiction between the human mind and its employments. How can a soul be a merchant? What relation to an immortal being have the price of linseed, the fall of butter, the tare on tallow, the brokerage on hemp? Can an undying creature debit ‘petty expenses’ and charge for ‘carriage paid’?”

Choose Goodness

12/21/2010

 

 

The great question of why God permits evil is usually treated in Judaism less as a “why” question than as a “what” question: Given the evil in the world, what do we do about it?

We can wonder about God’s role, but it is ultimately inscrutable. We cannot know. Imagine how little a 2-year-old understands an adult. He cannot even understand what he does not know. The Jewish tradition conceives of the gap between humans and God as far greater than that between an adult and an infant. So how, ultimately, can we understand?

Hands To Work, Hearts To God

12/14/2010

The Rabbis of the Talmud valued work. Hillel was a woodchopper, Shammai the Elder was a builder, Abba Shaul was a gravedigger. Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shimon said: “Great is labor for it honors the workman.” Both sages would purposely carry burdens on their shoulders because they wanted their students to see that manual labor should be respected. Later Rabbis carried on the traditions in professions as well: Maimonides was a renowned doctor, Abravanel, a statesman and financier.

The Adams (And Our) Family

12/07/2010

Historian David McCullough tells a story that Abigail Adams received a letter from her sister about her son, John Quincy Adams. It said he was a very impressive young man but that, alas, he seemed a little overly enamored with himself and his opinions and that this was not going over very well in town.

The Audacity Of Hope

11/30/2010

As we come to the darkest part of winter we light candles. Some might think this is about optimism. It is not. It is about hope.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reminds us that “optimism is the belief that things will get better. Hope is the faith that, together, we can make things better.” The Jewish people have long since lost the easy optimism that assumes the world is constantly improving. We have seen too much, and with saddened eyes understand how tragic the world can be.

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