Fear and trembling. Those have been our primary religious emotions during the past several weeks...
How does the poet get started on the process of writing a poem, or the songwriter as he sets about composing a song? Does he or she look at the environment, at what is going on in the world and seek inspiration from things external? Or does the creative artist look within, using introspection as a tool to uncover emotions out of which the poem or song can be fashioned? These questions can be asked about all creative processes, not just writing. They can be asked of the graphic artist, of the composer of music, of the sculptor.
Sometimes even the corniest of old jokes has a profound lesson to teach us...
Who would you consult if you wanted to know a thing or two about the perfect society? Would you ask a politician? A professor of government? A philosopher expert in theories of utopia? Or perhaps a historian familiar with successful societies across the ages?
I am sure that you, dear reader, have had the occasion to come across a book which you simply could not put down. Something so fascinating, so gripping, that you were compelled to read it cover to cover in as short a time as you could manage.
I was very fortunate as a young boy, and in one particular way I knew it. Very few of my friends had living grandparents. Their families had recently arrived in America, and their grandparents remained behind in Eastern Europe and were consumed in the fires of the Holocaust.
It was a typical park bench conversation. I hadn't seen my friend for quite some time, and we both were delighted when we ran into each other by chance that afternoon.
It was a decision I made long ago. I made it instinctively. It was not based upon any lesson that I had learned. After many years, I heard the lesson taught by a wise woman. Eventually, I came to realize that the lesson was in a four-word verse in this week's Torah portion, Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1).
Earlier this week, in an attempt to gain some space in my crowded apartment, I was going through some old records and discarding many of them. Uncertain about whether or not to keep some of them, I found myself guided by my mother-in-law’s advice: “When in doubt, throw it out.”
We all nod our heads in agreement when we hear the phrase, "Two Jews, three opinions." We similarly chuckle when we hear the anecdote about the Jew who was discovered after years of living alone on a desert island. His rescuers noticed that he had built two huts aside from the one he lived in. He told the puzzled people who saved him that they were shuls, or synagogues. When asked why he needed two shuls, he retorted, "One is the one in which I pray, and the other is the one into which I would never set foot."
It may not sound like much of a story to you, but to me it was meaningful at many levels. I've heard the story three times now, each time from a different person. Each of the three went through a remarkably similar experience and shared their story with me. I'd like to share the story with you, but some background will be necessary.
I was in a total fog during my first year in high school. I am convinced that my experience then was not unique. I entered a strange school, much larger than the one I had attended previously, and was not given the benefit of any orientation to the new environment. I did not know what to expect, and I was not informed about what was expected of me.
One of the interesting paradoxes of human life is our tendency to copy one another and to try to “fit in” with friends and acquaintances, while simultaneously trying to be distinct from others, and to be our “own person.”
All beginning students of Torah face this obstacle: in their original, the primary texts of our Jewish tradition have no punctuation. There are neither commas nor periods in the Torah scroll, the Sefer Torah. There are no question marks, nor are there indications of where one paragraph ends and another begins in standard editions of the Talmud.
We were exhausted, burned out. We felt that we needed a break. There were just two of us: me and my study partner, Yisrael. We were both not quite twenty years old, students in the post high school program in our yeshiva, committed to a morning and an afternoon session of intensive Talmud study from Sunday to Thursday every week.
It is an old word, and it describes a behavior that has been around since the very beginning of history. Yet the word seems to me to be used more and more frequently these days, and the behavior it describes has gotten out of control.
In every group, there is one person who stands out as special. In childhood, it is often the kid with the greatest athletic prowess. Later in life, different attributes begin to qualify a person to become the group’s star.
He never returned phone calls. He certainly never returned e-mails. He rarely smiled.
I remember well when the age at which one could vote or drink was 21. From my perspective when I was a child, and frankly eager to do these things, it seemed to be an injustice to set the age bar so high. Twenty-one seemed a long way off.
We live in a world of cell phones and e-mails, blogs, Facebook and Twitter. We have no privacy, for almost anyone can reach us wherever we are, whatever we happen to be doing, at all times of the day. And we can have no secrets, because anyone who knows anything about us can spread it to the entire world in a matter of seconds.
"Words, words, words!", he shouted at me. He was a young man, raised as an observant Jew, but now in rebellion against his traditional upbringing. His parents had asked me to meet with him for several sessions to see if I could at least temper his rebellious spirit, and perhaps even convince him to return to the path they desired him to follow.
She was a Hindu princess. She was one of the brightest students in my graduate school class. We studied psychology, and she went on to return to her country and become a psychotherapist of world renown. For our purposes, I shall refer to her as Streena.
If you have raised a child, you have had this experience. Your little boy or girl came home from school with a sample of his or her artwork. To you it just looked like a hodge-podge of scribbles, random color smears. But your child exclaimed, "Look, Mommy, it is a picture of the trees and fields that we pass on the way to grandma's house." Or, "Wow, Daddy! I drew the sun and the moon and the stars in the sky!"
Scholars have long disagreed about what distinguishes human beings from the rest of the animal world. Some have argued that it is man's intelligence and use of language that distinguishes him; hence the term Homo Sapiens. Others have maintained that it is the fact that he uses tools that makes man distinct from other living creatures; hence, the term Homo Faber. There have even been those who have put forward the opinion that man alone of all the rest of the animal species engages in play; hence, the term Homo Ludens.