The prophets speak ceaselessly about care for the needy and the poor. The call originates in the Torah. Deuteronomy 15:7 tell us that “if there is a poor person among you ... do not harden your heart and shut your hand.” On Yom Kippur we read from Isaiah, reminding us that the fast God wants is this: “To let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. To share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home. When you see the naked, clothe him...” (Is. 58:6,7).
When The New Yorker was first launched in 1935 and for a long time after, money was very tight. Once when the first editor, Harold Ross, asked Dorothy Parker why she had not written a promised piece, she answered, “Well, someone else was using the pencil.”
Childhood, wrote George Eliot, is soothed by no memories of outlived sorrow.
One of the pains of youth is that we have not yet aged; we cannot imagine how much we will change, how our memories will reconfigure themselves, that this moment is not forever. As we grow, the accumulation of sorrows carries comfort: we have been sad, or hurt, or disappointed before and discovered that change is the one constant of life. As Solomon’s ring had it, this too shall pass.
After more than 15 years as a pulpit rabbi, perhaps the wisest comment I have seen about synagogue life comes from a monastery. In her lovely memoir, “The Cloister Walk,” about her time in a Benedictine monastery in Minnesota, Kathleen Norris writes:
The art of living is one of self-creation. The Rabbis of the Talmud teach that when God says in Genesis, “Let us make man,” God is speaking with the royal “we.” But a later chasidic teaching argues that God is speaking to human beings — together we will make you. I will endow you with certain gifts and you must spend your life soul-shaping.
Everyone decries extremism but it is hard to turn out crowds for moderation. The satiric Czech novelist Jaroslav Hasek once started a political movement called “The Party of Moderate Progress Within the Bounds of the Law.” If you’ve never heard of it, that’s because it never quite picked up steam.
Years ago I attended a black-tie affair where the keynote address was delivered by the late Ambassador Max Kampelman. Not realizing the formality of the occasion, he was dressed somewhat casually. Noting his sartorial miscue, Ambassador Kampelman began his speech with a story about David Ben-Gurion.
Why do we cover our eyes during the Shema? Our tradition teaches that it is to avoid distraction and focus at this central time in prayer. Moreover, the Shema is a prayer about listening, and we can listen more intently when not looking; the limitation of one sense often makes others keener.
We read the paper and learn of deprivation we will never see with our own eyes. It is hard enough to help a neighbor; how can we imagine helping people in other lands, who speak a different language and live in a foreign culture?