Musings

Judge Kindly

08/03/2010

‘Judge everyone favorably,” teaches the Mishna. In my years in the rabbinate I have found this is a principle we observe very strictly when it comes to ourselves. We always put our own actions in a favorable light: “I was only trying to help!” or “I only said it out of concern” or “I’m not mean — you are too sensitive!” But when it comes to others, we are too willing, even eager, to assume unflattering motivations. 

Rest Not

07/27/2010

Israeli President Shimon Peres once offered his view on the greatest Jewish contribution to the world: “Dissatisfaction.”

Talk shows and preachers peddle calm and peace of mind. But Peres reminds us of the message of our prophets: Isaiah could not feel satisfied while living amidst anguish and war. Jeremiah could not ignore the widow, the orphan, the corruption around him. 

Telling Our Story

07/20/2010

In “The Arabian Nights,” Scheherazade keeps herself alive by weaving a narrative spell: her story is so thrilling that the Sultan keeps her around to hear the next night’s continuation.

Staying alive through stories: this is part of the secret of the Jewish people. We tell our tales, day by day, night after night. On Tisha b’Av we recount the story of destruction and loss. On Passover, of liberation and triumph. On Rosh HaShanah, of creation, on Shabbat of rest. Scholars, sages, fiddlers, fools — each magic link in the chain pulls us to the next.

The Cost Of Dreams

07/13/2010

In December of 1941 Rabbi Unsdorfer, who was later to perish in Auschwitz, wrote the following about Joseph and his dreams, translated by scholar Nehemia Polen:

Toddler Talmud

07/06/2010

When my daughter was 3, she taught me Talmud.

One morning I was making her waffles. When the toaster oven rang I said, “Oh, your waffles are ready.”

She said, “Why did you say ‘oy?’”

“I didn’t, I said ‘oh.’”

“You said ‘oy’” she insisted.

“OK,” I conceded, “I said oy.”

“Aha!” she said, eyes gleaming with toddler triumph. “You misunderstood yourself.”

Toddler Talmud

06/30/2010
Special to the Jewish Week

When my daughter was 3, she taught me Talmud.

One morning I was making her waffles. When the toaster oven rang I said, “Oh, your waffles are ready.”

She said, “Why did you say ‘oy?’”

“I didn’t, I said ‘oh.’”

“You said ‘oy’” she insisted.

“OK” I conceded, I said “oy.”

“Aha!” she said, eyes gleaming with toddler triumph. “You misunderstood yourself.”

Toddler Talmud

06/30/2010

 When my daughter was 3, she taught me Talmud.

One morning I was making her waffles. When the toaster oven rang I said, “Oh, your waffles are ready.”

She said, “Why did you say ‘oy?’”

“I didn’t, I said ‘oh.’”

“You said ‘oy’” she insisted.

“OK” I conceded, I said “oy.”

“Aha!” she said, eyes gleaming with toddler triumph. “You misunderstood yourself.”

We Contain Multitudes

06/22/2010

Essayist Charles Lamb wrote that the world is divided between those who borrow and those who lend. Essayist Max Beerbohm divides the world into hosts and guests. Essayist Robert Benchley explains that there really are two types of people: those who insist upon dividing the world into two types, and those who do not.

To Hold With Open Arms

06/08/2010

After Rabbi Milton Steinberg recovered following his heart attack he walked out into the bright midday sun. He thought, “How precious — how careless.” Life is so precious and we are so careless with it. How can we pay so little heed when we know that everything cherished must end? Perhaps we fear that if we care too much, the losses of life will be unbearable. 

The Ethics Of Invitations

06/01/2010
Special to the Jewish Week

Responding to invitations causes both excitement and anxiety. What if I do not show up? Will it be held against me? Do I have to invite them because they invited me? Will they believe my excuse?

The French writer Jean Cocteau solved the problem with a telegram: “Regret cannot come. Lie to follow.”

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