This week's column follows up a thought that I shared with you last week. I suggested that one of our most difficult religious tasks is to "see ourselves as if we had personally left Egypt." I stated that it required a skill of imagination which most of us lack.
Each parsha, for the next many Shabbatot, provides us with a not-to-be-missed opportunity to prepare ourselves, intellectually and spiritually, for the wonderful holiday which lies ahead.
They called him a horse thief. That was the worst possible epithet that one could hurl at a young man in the early 19th-century shtetl, or village, of Czernovitz. Back then, a horse was a very necessary item, and many of the townspeople spent all of their hard-earned savings to procure one. Losing one's horse often meant losing one's livelihood.
This has got to be one of the oldest "rabbi" jokes in the entire repertoire of American Jewish humor. It tells us of the young rabbi, fresh from rabbinical school, who addresses his first several sermons to his new congregation on the varied subjects of meticulous Sabbath observance, refraining from malicious gossip, honesty in business, and the avoidance of inappropriately familiar behavior with other men's wives.
Since my early childhood, I've associated the day after Chanukah with sad feelings, feelings of loss. After all, for eight consecutive days, we celebrated with hallel v'hodaah, with praise and thanksgiving, with special foods and songs, and gifts.
There are many ways to interpret biblical texts. Some commentaries take a literal approach, others probe for deeper meanings.
It is not just in teaching texts that we must adjust our teaching to the maturity level of our audience. We must do so all the more when we discuss the nature of the divine.
I invite you to imagine yourself as Adam or Eve. Put yourself in their shoes. Remember that, as the very first humans, they had a most unique perspective on every aspect of a newly created world. Their reactions to their surroundings and to each other had no precedent.
Sometimes even the corniest of old jokes has a profound lesson to teach us...
It is the last Sabbath of this year. In just a few days we usher in a New Year, and by the time we read the next Torah portion it will already be the year 5774.
For many of us, the first pieces of wisdom which we learned were from nursery rhymes and schoolyard jingles. Sometimes these childish lessons had value, but more often they were off the mark and had the effect of distorting a truer perspective on life.
I have kept my time-worn copy of Roget's Thesaurus in my personal library since I was in the seventh grade. It was given to me by my teacher, a Mr. Zeller, who introduced me to the beauty of language and who first stimulated my fascination with words. He taught me to use this thesaurus in order to use language effectively and with precision.
How drastically has our world changed! Even as many communities have gradually "reopened," we now realize that things may never be quite the same as they were just a short time ago.
For the past several months, we have all been struggling with the terrible COVID-19 pandemic. We have heard our share of sad and tragic stories, and many have had to cope with very frightening events. But, on more than one occasion, we have also read about, and sometimes even witnessed, uplifting and inspiring episodes that have helped us cope with the situation constructively.
It was a lesson I learned long ago, when I was a high school classroom teacher. I was new at this line of work, and found that my greatest challenge was to find ways to motivate the students. I tried various approaches, which all were basically attempts to motivate by giving. I tried giving special prizes and awards, granting extra privileges, and even resorting to outright bribery in order to get the students to pay attention, do their homework, and learn the subject matter.