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.
The custom is fairly prevalent nowadays, but it was not a common practice thirty years ago when my friend raised his sons. He would seek out especially pious rabbis, generally quite elderly ones, to request that they bless his children.
He never returned phone calls. He certainly never returned e-mails. He rarely smiled.
“No man is an island.” “It takes a village.” These are just some of the clichés that are used to convey the importance of social groups, of the realization that people cannot “go at it alone”.
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.
You have surely noticed the great changes in the way charitable causes do their fundraising these days. There was a time when fundraisers, who often were themselves dignified and prestigious rabbinical figures, knocked on the doors of potential philanthropists in the hope that they would not be turned away.
It was over 40 years ago, but I remember the feelings very well. They were overwhelming, and were not dispelled easily.
For several weeks now, we have attempted to define the nature of redemption, geulah, in this column. We have struggled with the challenge posed by the Passover Haggadah: "In every generation, each one of us is obligated to see himself as if he had personally left Egypt."
For the past several weeks, this column has addressed a challenge that we all face during Passover, Pesach, which is now barely two months away. The challenge is posed in a passage in the Haggadah, which ultimately derives from a Mishna in the tractate of Pesachim. The text reads, "In each and every generation, one is obligated to see himself, lir'ot et atzmo, as if he had personally left Egypt."
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.