Musings

If I Were A Rich Man

01/16/2008
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles.

In the Talmud we read (Arachin 10b): “There was a flute in the Temple which was smooth, fine, made of a reed, and from the days of Moses. The king issued an order that it be plated with gold, and its sound was no longer pleasant. They removed the plate, and its sound was pleasant, as it had once been.”

A Test Of Knowledge

01/09/2008
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles.

Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre tells of King Charles II inviting members of the royal society to explain why a dead fish weighs more than the same fish alive. After a number of subtle explanations were given, the King pointed out that it does not.

The story recalls a tale told of the Maggid of Dubnov. Once, a rabbi claimed to a level of scholarship equal to the great Vilna Gaon. The Maggid suggested a test.

Warts And All

01/02/2008
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles.

A rabbi is speaking with a doctor, who says, “You know, Rabbi, I often treat patients without asking them to pay.” The rabbi responds, “I do that too.” The doctor, perplexed, persists: “You know, I often write prescriptions and cover the cost myself.” The rabbi muses, “Yes, I do that too.” The doctor, frustrated, says, “I even do surgery and forgo my normal fee!” The rabbi nods, and says, “Yes, I do that too.”

God In A Dark Cloud

12/26/2007
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles.

The Rabbis tell a stirring tale of Adam’s first night on earth. Having known only one day, he had never experienced a sunset. When the world went dark, Adam feared it was the end of everything. His hand alighted on two stones, one named afelah, darkness, and the other maveth, death. He rubbed the stones together and created a spark that illuminated the darkness until, miraculously, the morning came and the sun rose.

Dreams As Liberation

12/19/2007
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles.

Dreams dominate Genesis, the first book of the Bible. At the outset of the human journey we dreamed our way to the world.

Joseph’s dreams in youth brought him to the Egyptian dungeon, by evoking the jealousy of his brothers. His skill interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams liberated him. As Rabbi Isaac Bernstein teaches us, Joseph was brought low by listening only to his own dreams, and rose high when he began to listen to the dreams of others. As with Jacob his father, fleeting visions of the night enchant the dawn and change the world.

Stones And Souls

12/12/2007
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles.

Why do Jews place stones on a grave?

One beautiful explanation takes its cue from the inscription on many gravestones: the five-letter Hebrew abbreviation taf, nun, tsadi, bet, hey, which stands for “Teheye Nishmato Tsrurah B’tsror HaChayyim.” This is usually translated as “May his soul be bound up in the bounds of eternal life.”

Deceiving Ourselves

12/04/2007
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles.

Dishonesty enables us to change our behavior, but not to change ourselves.  True change entails admitting to who we are and who we have been. As they wrestle, the angel asks Jacob his name. It seems a strange question — would an angel struggle all night with a human being and not know who he was?

But Jacob had previously deceived his father, pretending to be Esau. He must first become who he is, Jacob, before he can become someone new. The angel gives Jacob the chance to overcome his deceptions. Admitting he is Jacob, he is ready to be Israel.

Remembrance Of Things Past

11/28/2007
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles.

Before being written down, the rabbinic tradition of Judaism, the “oral law,” was preserved by professional memorizers. These “reciters” could repeat page after and page of text without a second thought. Indeed, second thoughts were dangerous; reciters should not be inventive, lest they alter the tradition. Reliable memories are characterized by fidelity, not creativity.

For Argument’s Sake

11/20/2007
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles.

In my first Talmud class, I was given an invaluable piece of advice.  My teacher told us that if we were ever drifting off, or not paying attention, and were asked a question, to answer “there’s a machloket” — a disagreement.  If you say that, he commented with a sparkle in his eye, you will always be right.

Jews do disagree.  In the Bible Abraham argues with God and the people argue with Moses. The Talmud is one formidable catalogue of argumentation.  As for us — well, we all argue with one other.

Humility And Piety

10/11/2007
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles.

The Midrash teaches: “If there are no small children there will be no disciples; if there are no disciples there will be no sages; if there are no sages there will be no Torah; if there is no Torah there will be no synagogues and academies; if there are no synagogues and academies, the Holy One, blessed be He, will no longer allow the Shechina, the Divine presence, to dwell in the world.”

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