It was at a house of mourning, and she was saying something that I had heard many times before. In fact, I had said it myself when I was sitting shiva for my own mother.
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."
Imagine standing at a crossroads. We have all been there. We have all experienced moments in our life’s journey when we had to make a crucial choice and decide whether to proceed along one road or along another. (Except for Yogi Berra, of course, who famously said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it.")
I no longer remember which Israeli artist colony I was visiting. Perhaps Jaffa. But I will never forget the crude, almost primitive paintings, which were on exhibit. They were all very different in color, style, and size. But in every painting, a candle predominated.
I am sure that you have a most favorite activity. I know that I do. I am also sure that you have a least favorite activity, as I do.
My first exposure to the study of the Bible was in the Yiddish language. We spoke only English at home, but almost all the teachers we had in the yeshiva I attended were Holocaust survivors who had escaped to the safety of these shores only a few years prior.
I love visiting residences for senior citizens. For one thing, being around truly older people invariably helps me feel young by comparison. Recently, I was a weekend guest scholar at such a residence. I dispensed with my prepared lectures and instead tried to engage the residents of the facility, not one of whom was less than ninety years old, in a group discussion. This proved to be a very wise move on my part, because I learned a great deal about the experience of getting old. Or, as one wise man insisted, “You don’t get ‘old’—you get ‘older.’”
There is much that the Torah leaves to our imagination. Regular students of the weekly Torah portion soon become convinced that the narratives they read each week are deliberately abbreviated, as if to encourage us to fill in the missing links on our own.
There was a time when I would only go out of my way to listen to speakers who were older and more experienced than I. Recently, however, I have changed my preferences and have begun to seek out speakers, rabbis and teachers, who are young and relatively inexperienced. I find their ideas fresh and often very much on the mark. After all, they are in much better touch with our fast-changing world than I am.
He did most of his writing and public speaking almost exactly one hundred years ago. He had no secular education, and it is doubtful that he even read the newspapers of his day. Nevertheless, he had insights into the problems of his era that were astounding, even prophetic.
We all applaud when an old man runs in the marathon. We expect that his physical powers diminished long ago, and when he proves otherwise we celebrate for him.
Loyal readers of this column know that I am addicted to books. Not just “holy” books, and not just Jewish books. All books.
The Jewish calendar is punctuated by many happy occasions. The Torah requires us to celebrate three major festivals—Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot—and to do so joyously. Our Sages instituted two additional festive holidays, Chanukah and Purim. Without question, it is this latter holiday that evokes the greatest exhibitions of joy and gaiety. Already at the time of its inception, the 14th day of Adar is described as "a day of merrymaking and feasting, as a holiday and an occasion for sending gifts to one another."
Birthdays are important, and the older one gets, the more important they become. With age, birthdays begin to stimulate ambiguous feelings.
Whenever I think of people I knew who dressed impeccably, I recall three of my favorite people. One was my maternal grandfather, a businessman who was firmly dedicated to religious observance, but who chose his clothing carefully and was proud of his collection of cufflinks, tie clips, and colorful suspenders.
It was a cold winter, all over the world. It was the year 1991, and it was the time of the great Gulf War. Scud missiles were falling upon towns and cities throughout the State of Israel. To say that times were tense would indeed be an understatement.
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" That was once the standard question to ask an eight- or nine-year-old when trying to make conversation with him or her. Somehow, every child had an answer, which ranged from "fireman" to "football player" to "nurse."
Teaching young children has always been a joy for me. One of teaching's special advantages is the clarity that emerges from conversation with people under the age of ten.