In “How Much Land Does a Man Need?,” Tolstoy tells of a man who discovers that for a small fee, he can have as much land as he can walk around in a single day. Driven by greed, the man wakes early, walks so far that he cannot get back to his starting point, and in the end dies of a heart attack brought on by the effort. He is buried in a six-foot plot of land, thus ironically answering the title’s question.
I am a great fan of mystery novels. I have read more than I can count, along with books about the history of the genre, and have many favorites. Part of the joy is that mysteries both illuminate extremes of human character and satisfy our craving for justice, usually with a clever puzzle thrown in. From Poe’s Dupin, often reckoned the first fictional detective, through Holmes and the golden age of Bentley, Christie and up to Rex Stout, P.D. James, Connolly and Jo Nesbo today, the detective usually represents, however imperfectly, the thirst for what is right.
There are evil things in the world, of course, but too often “evil” is a category that helps us to avoid thinking. When I mention a political figure, some will grapple with that person’s ideas. Others, far too many, will accuse her or him of hostility, evil, secret origins or nefarious aims. It is as if they cannot imagine that someone with good intentions would think other than they do or act in different ways from their own dispositions.
In 1974, the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a letter to Eric Hoffer, the great longshoreman-philosopher and author of “The True Believer.” Hoffer had worked hard all his life on the docks of San Francisco and as a migrant farm laborer when younger. Moynihan wrote to him:
Sometimes distance is our friend. When we press our noses up against the glass of our troubles, they seem immediate and overwhelming. But if we can take the eagle’s-eye view, or the perspective of time, we often find that what preoccupies us now is fleeting.
To live truly moral lives, we must have imagination, writes Rabbi David Wolpe.
Rabbi David Wolpe
Special To The Jewish Week
A childhood friend once attended a play starring the great Zero Mostel. He had the misfortune to be late and Mostel, spotting him trying to sneak in the theater, stopped the performance and asked for the house lights to be turned up. “You — yes you, the one who is late,” he said, pointing to my humiliated friend. “I want you to know what you missed.” Mostel then acted out the entire play to that point by himself, inhabiting all the roles. My friend was embarrassed but also delighted to be the spur to such a tour de force.
I am surrounded by books I will never have a chance to read, people I will never get to know and constantly hear about places I will never visit. This is the invariable law of every life. How shall we think of this richness so vastly greater than our time to experience it?
We read the Torah on Monday and Thursday in the synagogue because in ancient times those were market days. Picture the scene: Competing with the merchants hawking their wares was the voice of someone reading and explaining the stories and laws of the Torah. I imagine the Maggid stationed today in the produce section of Trader’s Joes, telling of Moses’ encounter before Pharaoh, or better, the of delights of the Garden of Eden.
As king, David has grown satisfied and been blessed. When he sees Batsheba bathing on a roof, he acts as if he is a law unto himself. He summons and sleeps with this woman who belongs to another man. She becomes pregnant, and David cannot induce her patriotic husband, Uriah, to sleep with her when his fellow troops are risking their lives in battle. David arranges to have Uriah killed. It is probably the most cynical act of cruelty in the Bible.