Ha'azinu: Our life -- what legacy?

Ha'azinu: Our life -- what legacy?

 

Where I grew up and still spend much of my time -- Orange County, California -- special effort is needed to come face-to-face with any conspicuously “historical” tangible object, such as a building more than a century old or a museum artifact. How different elsewhere!  Over the past two months I’ve spent in ...

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Sep 27

Jewish British Mudslinging at Israel

Jewish British Mudslinging at Israel

 

This week I depart from my Torah commentary to describe two upsetting, related incidents in connection with my Rosh Hashanah visit to a Liberal Judaism movement congregation in the UK.  They both involved Israel. In the first ... 

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Sep 21
Posted in: Israel

Nitzavim: The Pink Ostrich of Life

Nitzavim: The Pink Ostrich of Life

 

This week I heard an intriguing radio short story.  A travel writer narrated his visit to a strange land populated by two peoples.  One lived entirely to serve the other.  The servant-people were neither slaves nor employees; they were motivated entirely by religious faith.  Their god was a great pink ostrich that they believed was pleased with their devoted altruism to the Others.  These Others regarded the notions of any god and of altruism as equally absurd.  Yet, since the arrangement suited the interests of both groups, their society functioned harmoniously.  ,,,

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Sep 14

Ki Tavo: An Authentic Non-Torah Judaism?

Ki Tavo: An Authentic Non-Torah Judaism?

 

Every Passover – our ancient and most conspicuous celebration of Jewish history -- I can’t help but notice something extraordinary about the summary historical narrative that comes right out of this week’s Torah portion: “My father was a fugitive Aramean...."  

 

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Ki Tetse: Mercy and the Injustice of Forgiveness

Ki Tetse: Mercy and the Injustice of Forgiveness

Last week, I described the loss of my Smartphone on a Jerusalem bus and suggested a variety of Chesbon HaNefesh lessons it inspired.  But the High Holidays are not only about self-evaluation. They are also, of course, about seeking and granting forgiveness. It’s now been more than a week since I lost my Smartphone, and no one has contacted me nor turned it in to the bus company lost and found.  According to this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tetse, (22:1-3), which requires the return of (identifiable) lost property, they have therefore stolen it from me.   Am I obliged to forgive the thief?

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Aug 31

Shoftim: Lost and Found

Shoftim: Lost and Found

I lost my new “Smartphone” a few days ago.  It happened somewhere between my Jerusalem apartment and my arrival at morning minyan.  I think I put it on the bus seat when I opened my backpack to retrieve something that then took my full attention during the remaining short ride.   I remember being surprised when I looked up and saw that we were arriving at my stop; I jumped up, grabbed my backpack, and alighted without checking around me. No one has turned it in.  Yet, prompted by the Jewish calendar, I think that I have gained, rather than lost, from this incident ...

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Re'eh: There's no such thing as bad publicity?

Re'eh: There's no such thing as bad publicity?

In politics, I’ve heard, there’s no such thing as bad press. Of course, no politician prefers criticism or scandal to praise and respect, but the worst thing is irrelevance. “It’s not what they say about you that matters, it’s whether they talk about you!” Proponents of this idea argue that voters have short memories; if a candidate makes an impression, they’ll remember the name long after they’ve forgotten why. Then, when they arrive at the ballot box and look at a list of names, they’ll most often choose the most familiar one. Name recognition is also ...

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Aug 17

Ekev: Fists and Noses

Ekev: Fists and Noses

A familiar maxim of American law is, “my right to swing my fist ends at the other fellow’s nose.”   In other words, the governing principle of American liberty means that I can do as I please (and what I do is nobody else’s business and his/hers none of mine) so long as we don’t actually hurt each other.  A related maxim is the “no duty of rescue” rule: with very few exceptions in only a few jurisdictions, one has no legal obligation to help another in an emergency, even if such help can be rendered without risk or inconvenience.  I can live my life and ignore the plight and interests of others (unless I actively or negligently harm or damage them). 

Conversely, familiar maxims of Judaism include,

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Aug 10

Va-etchanan: This "week" in Jewish history...

Va-etchanan: This "week" in Jewish history...

This week I made a list of potential themes for my D’var Torah: 

1. Jews as the “Chosen People”
2. The “Ten Commandments”
3. The Commandment to “Do the Right and the Good”
4. Siyum Hashas (the completion of the 7.5 year Talmud study cycle)
5. This Shabbat’s designation as Shabbat Nachamu 
6. The Aleinu prayer with which we end each service.   

Each of these, among others, appealed to me.  Perhaps because I have just returned to Jerusalem and have not yet caught up on sleep,  I found myself unable to decide which to write about.  So, I thought I’d try briefly weaving them all together!




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Tisha B'Av: Not Just for the Orthodox!

Tisha B'Av: Not Just for the Orthodox!

We all know that much “history” – what happened during andbefore our lifetimes -- greatly affects “who we are” and how we self-identify.   Yet, fewof us consciously define our lives in an expressly historical way.   Unlesswe experienced a traumatic or clearly life-changing event, we don’t say or eventhink “I am who I am because of what happened.” Nor do we think or say, “I am a link in a chain of many generations.”  But doing so would likely enrich the meaning inand of our lives.  In this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, the first inDeuteronomy, Moses knows that he is soon to die.  How does he begin his last oration?  Rather than praising G-d or reiterating theCommandments, he begins with a narrative history of Israel’s experiencessince receiving the Commandments.  Perhapshe realizes that to ensure the future of the “Jewish people,” his mostimportant task is to ensure that they don’t forget theirpast –especially the bitter parts.

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He who guards his mouth preserves his life
Proverbs 13:3