Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A weekly torah takeaway by Amichai Lau-Lavie

A year-long Jerusalem Journey, action by action, verb by verb. Each week I pluck a verb from the Torah portion and set it reverberating both with its context and with my own. Let's make this a conversation, and talk our walk.


Next door to my apartment in the German Colony is a small synagogue, belonging to a Turkish community. Now that it’s summer and my bedroom window is wide open, I lay in bed on Saturday mornings and hear them pray and chant the Torah. It’s beautiful, trance-like - very different from the European style synagogues I grew up in and am most familiar with. These guys are all sing-song and rhythm, drumming and banging with their hands on the tables. The man who chants the Torah raises and lowers his voice dramatically, using a Middle Eastern trope that makes haunting music of the worn words. Last Saturday I sat up in bed and followed along, listening, familiar enough with the text, enjoying his subtle interpretations. I have no idea who they are or what any of them look like.

When I tell this to my nephew, Y. at lunch, he asks ‘why didn’t you go inside and join them?’

Good question – coming from a bright Yeshiva student, who, like me was taught to always attend synagogue on Shabbat, and unlike me, does. The truth is, I tell him, that I was perfectly comfortable in bed. And besides, the experience was so moving for me not because of ‘being there’, meeting the people, seeing their faces, joining their ‘togetherness’ but precisely because I wasn’t ‘there’. This particular experience was about ‘here’ and about ‘hearing’ – using ears only to connect, privately, to the sacred, relishing an intimate moment of meaning, of connection, of beauty.

Would I have had the same level of attention had I been sitting inside the little synagogue, surrounded by strangers?

Y. considers this, briefly. ‘It’s ok to pray alone, and even to hear the Torah alone, but isn’t the full expression of the religious experience supposed to be communal? Isn’t it about adding your voice to the ones they - we - hear?’

Bright, right?

I take the mystical approach and remind him of the “Sh'ma Israel” – Judaism’s briefest and most popular prayer - a declaration of faith opening with the word – ‘shma’ –‘hear!’ – in the singular.

Sometimes, I tell him, it’s ok to go solo… some things are best done privately, in the privacy of one’s own room.

We laugh, and agree to not always agree and lunch is soon over.

But also, and this I didn’t tell Y., sparing him the details of my minor Sabbath desecration - on the other side of the building, my neighbor J. plays classical music on Saturday mornings. After the Torah Service ends – and they are usually done by 9:30am – I switch to the balcony and drink coffee and groove on J.’s weekly selection of concertos. Last week, right after BaMidbar, she played Brahms.

So when it comes time to read this week’s Torah tale, Naso, and pick a verb that reverberates with my reality, I flip all the way to the last verse and find Moses, alone, hearing voices.

"When Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with God, he would hear the Voice addressing him from above the cover that was on top of the Ark of the Pact between the two cherubim; thus God spoke to him." (Bamdibar 7:89)

Hearing is a privilege. Not just for those of us whose hearing is not impaired physically, but also for those of us who take the time to stop, listen – and hear what is out there – and what is in here. Moses represents the peak of this human ability – he enters the most sacred domain to receive the transmission from beyond. In mythic imagination it is he alone who achieved such privileged status – but by transmitting the knowledge on to us he made sure that each and every one of us is able to access – or at least to attempt to access – to the same mystery, to the same voice. Moses reminds us how to hear reality.

In the early part of the 20th century, when Martin Buber begins the monumental project of translating the Bible into German, he writes: "Do we mean the word? We mean the voice. Do we mean that people should be reading it? We mean that people should be hearing it."

This week the Jewish world celebrates Shavuot – the holiday on which, according to tradition, Moses brought down the Ten Commandments from the flaming top of Mount Sinai. On Thursday night, May 28th, Sixth of Sivan, the eve of the holiday, many will stay up till dawn, engaging in various forms of study, contemplation and discussions on anything and everything that has to do with Torah and with Jewish life. A supplement in Jerusalem’s weekend paper listed over 500 different study events in Jerusalem alone – offering everything from Ultra Orthodox lectures to Jazz concerts and everything in between. (And I’m happy to note that I will be presenting two events, teaching at a third, and going to two other Storahtelling events by new local Storahtellers – all within 12 hours! Details for Shavuot Storah in Jerusalem )

On the same night in Tel Aviv, NY, London, Berlin and elsewhere – Jews will stay up till dawn to celebrate the voice that has become the legacy of words – the backbone of the people of the Book.

The willingness to hear, read and argue these same words is perhaps the one real unifying elements for all Jews, at all times. I love the fact that on the night of Shavuot, everyone is literally on the same page.

So here’s an irony. Because of the holiday of Shavuot falling this year on a Friday, the Jewish world will, temporarily, separate, and not be on the same Biblical page for about two months. Since this has some implications to this blog – here’s a quick summary:

The Torah is divided into 54 portions, one for each of the weeks in the Year, with some fluidity built in for pairing up specific portions.

Due to various historical reasons, the Jews in Israel only celebrate one day of each Holiday while the Jews living outside Israel get a bonus and keep two days per each holy day. Thus, this coming Saturday, Israelis will only be celebrating Sabbath as Usual, while Jews in the rest of the world will be celebrating the Second Day of Shavuot. The only reason this matters (it’s the same food) is the selection of the weekly Torah reading. In Israel, Naso, the second episode of the Book of Bamidbar will be chanted. Elsewhere, a special selection for the Second Day of Shavuot will take the stage –and Naso will be read the following week, catching up with Israel. At the end of Bamidbar – and the end of June – two Torah portions will be read together both in Israel and the Diaspora and the world will once again read the same verses on the same Sabbath, making it easier for everybody to get along and share blogs. FYI.

REVERB, currently physically located in Jerusalem, is taking the Israeli side on this one – and this week’s word comes from this week’s Torah selection, Naso. For my readers around the world (I got the nicest note from Moscow last week) – consider yourselves one week ahead of the game. We’ll soon be back together. Being together, it seems, can happen in a lot of different ways...

When the Turkish cantor will sing Naso outside my window this coming Saturday– I hope to be there – here - hearing Moses hearing God, yet again, for the very first time. And maybe J. will play Bach.

to learn more about the division of Torah portions:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Shavuot Storahtelling – Prophecy or Madness
by Ruthi Soudack

On May 19th, Shoshana Olidort and I (Ruthi Soudack), both members of the Israeli Storahtelling Maven Training, presented our final project – a Storahtelling performance based on the Torah reading for Shavuot morning. It was based on five verses (Shmot 19:16-20), which describe the prelude to the giving of the Torah – the trembling, voice of the shofar, thunder and lightning, etc. The performance was done at a Jewish Renewal beit midrash, where there was a small and receptive audience.

The performance focused on the question of whether there is a difference between madness and prophecy – what does it mean to hear the voice of God? There were two characters – I played a “crazy” homeless woman who speaks, somewhat hysterically, of her experience at Sinai and “hearing the voices,” jumping back and forth between the past and the present. Shoshana played an American female rabbi, who is telling her congregation about the experience at Sinai and emphasizes that this is an ongoing process – that it is still happening and we can experience it now. For most of the performance the two characters speak with no relationship to one another, but at the end, they are in dialogue and the rabbi confirms what the “crazy” lady says.

We opened with the song “Esa Einai el Heharim,” followed by a quote from Daniel (10:5-7), which also speaks of a supernatural voice which causes trembling (and which starts with the words “V’esa et einai”). The metichta brought the story of the 4 rabbis who went into the Pardes and only one came out sane/alive, which led into a discussion of the difference (if there is one) between prophecy and madness (“If you met this lady on the street, would you believe her story? Would you believe the rabbi? Why one and not the other if they’re essentially saying the same thing? Is there a difference between prophecy and madness?....). The closing used two quotes that basically say that prophets are madmen (or vice versa) – Hosea 9:7 and Baba Batra 12b. We ended with the song “Lulei toratcha sha’ashuai,” which is what we think Storahtelling is all about.

Good discussions were generated, both during the metichta and at the end of the performance (the latter about Storahtelling and what people had to say about it).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A weekly torah takeaway by Amichai Lau-Lavie

A year-long Jerusalem Journey, action by action, verb by verb. Each week I pluck a verb from the Torah portion and set it reverberating both with its context and with my own. Let's make this a conversation, and talk our walk.


Our fingers match perfectly – the palm of my hand rests on the imprint of that other mysterious hand, thumb for thumb, separated by 3,000 years.

At some moment in time, in the 9th or 8th century BCE, someone placed the palm of his or her hand on a wet piece of clay and created a perfectly legible imprint. Later, etched over the hand print, an inscription was carved in Early Hebrew Script: ‘Blessed is Uriyahu by YHWA and his Ashera, Guard him from foes.’ The object (purpose unknown, but with significant homage to the ancient Goddess of Israel) weighs about the same as a small melon. When I hold it with both hands, very very carefully, I try not to breath: this is authentic - one of the oldest Hebrew inscriptions in the world. I place it gently back on the shelf, alongside other priceless relics. Safely back on the shelf, at least for now, Uriyahu’s inscription is guarded from foes. What happened to the man himself is anybody’s guess.

Last week I had the privilege of a private tour inside the storage vaults of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. As part of my book research this year I have become somewhat obsessed with what writing may have looked like in the 5th century BCE. My friend D., who is a curator at the museum, graciously organized a private study tour, and there I was, notebook in hand, carefully led around the treasure cave, the holy of holies, deep inside the bowels of the museum. I was led past tight security, magnetic cards were swiped, a metal door opened and there was the Later Biblical Period Storage Unit – a large room full of glass cabinets, display tables and boxes, everywhere, carefully marked with names and numbers. The expression ‘kid in a candy store’ was never more accurate. Except this wasn't candy – these were crucial clues to a complex riddle – each object guarding secrets that either back up or totally challenge the Bible’s claim for literal accuracy. “Archeology”, D. tells me, “is a lot like poetry – making sense of a poem or a shard is 70% guess work, and 30% intuition. History guards its secrets with a tight fist – the best that we can do is speculate.”

It was an amazing afternoon - the tour was extremely helpful to my research on ancient forms of writing – but the most thrilling was the feeling of awe when, shelf by shelf, item by item, the mystery of history was unveiled – deities, inscriptions, jars and jewels: fragments of a life that, somehow, helps us make sense of ours. And perhaps the most thrilling was the knowledge that I am handling objects that are not just priceless and sacred because of how rare they are today but also because they were created as sacred - so many thousands of years ago. Whoever inscribed that rock, or carved that perfect little bronze calf or molded the perfect breasts on that figurine of the goddess of fertility was a guardian of the sacred, passing along fragments of immortality to future generations. Walking though that basement made me think about my own life, my private archeology: what are the objects that signify the sacred for me? For my family? What are the household items that represent my most cherished values, beliefs, aspirations? And will these objects mean anything to my next door neighbor – or to a descendant or a flea market buyer a hundred years from now? What am I the guardian of?

The delicate job of guarding the sacred is at the heart of this week’s Torah tale – Ba’Midbar - the first one of the fourth book of Moses. The Hebrew meaning of the name is 'In the Wilderness', or 'Inside the Desert' but most of us know this book by its English title – “Numbers”. The book chronicles the last years of Israel’s wanderings through the Sinai Desert and it opens with long and meticulous list detailing the population census – determining who’s who and how many there are in Israelite society. It’s ironic that the Hebrew name of this book conjures the wilderness of uncharted dunes, while the English name is about numbers and structures. The book - and life - is somehow about both – a noble attempt to balance order and chaos, nature and culture.

And so, at least ideally, the People Israel march to Canaan like perfect army – each tribe with specific formation, location and flag. At the heart of this mobile camp is the tent of the Divine – religious headquarters. This area is under the jurisdiction of the Levites – the guardians of mystery. Specifically, the Torah tells us, they have to guard the ‘ark, the table, the candlestick, the altars and the vessels of the sanctuary’. The super-guard is the highest ranking Levite: ‘Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, the prince of the princes of the Levites, will be in charge of the guardians of the sanctuary.’ (Ba'midbar, 3:32)

The Hebrew word for ‘guardians’ is ‘Shomrei’ – the exact same root of the word found on the hand-imprinted object in the museum (identified by the location in which it was found, Hirbat El Kum, not far away from Hebron).

The notion that a God can guard a human being is here matched by the notion that the humans in turn guard the domain of the Gods. The Levites protected the sacred objects in the Tabernacle, just like the guards are doing today at the Israel Museum. But Eleazar and his guard squad weren’t just guarding the objects – they were protecting the very notion of the sacred from being blurred with the mundane matters of life. They were keeping order away from chaos, keeping clear boundaries between the ordinary – and the extraordinary.

Back from the museum, I sat down to copy my notes. I turned off my cell phone, did not connect to the Internet, and devoted the next few hours to the fine craft that my ancestors have developed for thousands of years – writing things down. Guarding myself away from intrusion I made lists, wrote words, added up data, seeking, like an archaeologist, or a poet, or a museum guard or an ancient Levite to mark clear boundaries between the important and irrelevant, chiseling, word by word, inscriptions that may mean something to my next door neighbor, or to you reading this now, or, maybe to somebody else, in some other sacred domain, many years from now.

This weekly REVERB is dedicated to the memory of a great teacher and writer – who influenced me a lot. Dr. Leonard Shlain passed on last week at the age of 71. He would have loved the fact that the early inscription at the Museum honored both Hebraic God and Goddess. His bestselling book The Alphabet vs. The Goddess is one of the best ways to understand order vs. chaos within one’s self and throughout history. He was a true guardian of the sacred. May his memory be a blessing.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A weekly torah takeaway by Amichai Lau-Lavie

A year-long Jerusalem Journey, action by action, verb by verb. Each week I pluck a verb from the Torah portion and set it reverberating both with its context and with my own. Let's make this a conversation, and talk our walk.


The Pope with Rabbi Lau
at the ceremony - in
foreground - back of my
father's head
Pope Benedictus the 16th is visiting the Holy Land this week, stirring some trouble - immense traffic jams being the least of it. The Holy Father has disappointed many here - Jews, Arabs who were hoping for a spiritual message, but instead encountered a timid diplomacy.

On Monday, my father was invited, among a small group of Holocaust survivors and government officials, to attend the pope's ceremony of remembrance to the victims of the Holocaust at Yad VaShem - a mandatory event for every dignitary visiting Israel. I got to go along as my father's escort - a little celebrity-struck, and curious to witness this occasion, hoping, like many others, that something important will be said, some significant gesture to help heal the many hurts that still linger in this dialogue between Judaism and Christianity, and between all people of faith on this crazy holy land. It's not every day that one gets to see a Pope up close. And it's not everyday that the leader of the Catholic Church, who also happens to be a former member of the Hitler Youth, is invited to address the world inside a Memorial Tent for the Holocaust.

The Memorial Tent is situated in the middle of the Yad VaShem Museum, up on the top of Jerusalem's Memorial Mountain. It's a vast, dark chamber, made of concrete, where names of extermination and concentration camps are engraved in a rock on the floor and an eternal torch made of steel serves as the main source of light. It was set up with rows of white chairs towards the back. Security men stood every few feet. Swarms of reporters and camera crews were positioned inside and outside the tent, usually so quiet and somber.

Inside the tent we spotted my father's younger brother, Uncle Yisrael - Chief Rabbi Lau, who is currently the Chairman of Yad Vashem. In this capacity he was to be the one to officially welcome the Pope during the ceremony and present him with a gift. "Remember how we met the former pope in Rome? We talked in Polish for 45 minutes." My father sighs. "He was a good man." "It won't happen this time," my uncle replies. "I just got a copy of his speech. Gurnisht." (Yiddish for 'nothing'.)

It was a quick affair, mechanical and polite, a papal-puppet show of sorts - featuring a pope in white, a rabbi in black, a choir in black and white, a wreath, a candle, several lofty words, handshakes, cameras constantly clicking like gunshots. Keeping it cut and dry and solemn and simple, His Holiness and entourage of 40 cardinals in hot pinks and reds were in and out of the Holocaust Museum compound in 45 minutes as hundreds of policemen in blue exhaled a deep breath of relief.

The problem, as it was discussed all over the media these past two days, wasn't so much what he chose to publicly remember and proclaim at Yad Vashem, but rather what the Vatican chose not to say - and what not to remember.

He chose to remember the Patriarchs, the fathers of Monotheism. During his speech, in a very thick German accent and a small voice, lacking emotion, he called on the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to remember the names of all their children. He invoked the call of Abel, humanity's first victim of brotherly hatred. And he chose to end in silence, "Silence to remember, silence to pray and silence to hope."

It was hard to understand him, even though I was only a few feet away. I jotted down key phrases and looked around - faces were stiff, eyes were dry, President Peres was fidgeting; my uncle was looking down at the floor.

Silence is sometimes noble and golden, but in this case, the Pope's choice to prefer silence was ominous. The man whose past is murky in regard to this dark chapter in world history - the Pope whose handling of Holocaust Denial among senior clergy has come under international attack - that same man, Pope or not, should not have remained silent inside that tent. Not a word of empathy, responsibility or accountability came out of his thin lips. He stood in silence, choosing to forget or ignore - but everybody else who was there remembered and noted.

"It's all politics," M., a reporter, shrugs as we discuss the event outside the tent, minutes after it is over. "The Vatican is walking a thin line between Israel, the Palestinians, the Church and the world - it's practically a ballet. He's a prima-ballerina. And he's got to stay safe and bland. And anyway, he's boring and has no charisma. Just forget about it...move on."

Forgetting about it and moving on is what's going on in this week's Torah episode, 'B'har B'chukotai' - where the art of remembering and the need to forget draw the map of human suffering and aspirations. Chapter 36 in Leviticus wraps up the third Book of Moses by describing the bad news - how disobedience of God's law will lead Israel into destruction, hunger, murder and exile.Verse after verse of horrors detail punishments that one can see on display in the halls of any Holocaust museum - prophecy turned into history - everything we'd love to forget about, but can't. And what of hope? At the end of tragedy, promises the Bible, there will be peace, and the promise of well being will be remembered. The one to remember in this narrative is God, who will 'suddenly' realize the reign the darkness on earth and bring it to a close.

"I will then remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the earth." (Leviticus 36:42)

God gets to remember and change history. We, mere mortals, made in God's image, are likewise reminded to do the same: remembering will bring about redemption. The past, no matter how awful, is acknowledged, honored, remembered - and redeemed.

In the middle of the Memorial tent, on Memorial Mountain, the real remembrance was present, even if the words were silenced; Even if no redemption touched our hearts. The Holy Father, invoking the fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, left remembrance of their slain descendants to the Great Father himself. Off he went to his next official event, a tired old man in a white dress and red slippers, perhaps bearing on his shoulders a cross too heavy and way more responsibility than any human should.

On our way out to the parking lot, my father and uncle meet up again. "Nu - just as I told you - nothing important." They shrug, and smile, and we walk away. Later that evening he is interviewed on TV, calling the visit "a shame - and missed opportunity."

"What will you remember about this event?" I ask my father as we're leaving the Holy Father behind, driving back home through roads lined up with policemen busy dismantling the security fences. He thinks for a minute: "I will remember that we came here together - a survivor of the camps with his youngest son. That's what I choose to remember."

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

image from a recent
anti–stoning campaign

A weekly torah takeaway by Amichai Lau-Lavie

A year-long Jerusalem Journey, action by action, verb by verb. Each week I pluck a verb from the Torah portion and set it reverberating both with its context and with my own. Let's make this a conversation, and talk our walk.


I was daydreaming for 3 seconds too long and the red light had turned to green and the driver behind me was blaring his horn furiously. By the next traffic light his car pulled up beside me in the next lane, and he rolled down his window and pelted me with a colorful string of foul words, describing various sexual organs, providing sexual suggestions, somehow also implicating my mother and God. I won’t repeat them here of course, but it’s interesting to note that it was a mix of Hebrew and Arabic, as most juicy Israeli curses are in Arabic, and that as soon as he was done, he rolled his window back up and drove on.

Never mind that my crime did not deserve the punishment and never mind that Israeli road rage is notorious and is usually ascribed to the general tension in the public sphere – what I was left with was a slightly amused, but also pretty angry sense of feeling filthy. I was glad at least that I didn’t have a chance to answer him. What would I have said? Do the ‘right’ thing and smile and shut up, or do the ‘wrong’ thing and shout back with my own string of suggestions? What’s the best way to get it out of my system?

So it got me thinking about the power of words, and about words that are taboo in some contexts and ok in others, and about expressions that are still sacred and/or just too volatile for general public use. Imagine the F-word or the S-word, intentionally or not, inserted in the middle of an official presidential address or Bar Mitzvah speech. Recall the ‘oops factor’ of a private endearment or some other secret publicly revealed? Sometimes it’s a Freudian slip and sometimes an intentional blurring of boundaries – our choice of violent language says volumes about us and can completely change an image or an event with a single syllable. Think of fights with loved ones, when words get said that can’t be taken back and leave behind a permanent trail of mistrust. Sometimes, a subsequent ‘I’m Sorry’ will just not suffice. Sometimes, cursing can be so destructive – it can be fatal, leading to actual physical violence.

That’s what’s happening in this week’s Torah episode, ‘Emor’, in which a man opens his mouth to curse God and life, and ends up being stoned to death, charged with blasphemy.

It’s a terrible story. Also, it’s a very cryptic story and one suspects that there is much more here than meets the eye. The man in question has a mother, who is the only one to be actually named in the entire book of Leviticus. Her name is Shlomit, daughter of Divri, of the tribe of Dan. Her son is a product of inter-breeding. His father is an Egyptian whose name is unknown. Thus, this half Jew-half Egyptian man gets into a brawl one day with a full blooded Jew, in the middle of the camp, and in the heat of battle something strange happens:

‘And the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the name of God, and cursed.’
(Leviticus 24:13)

It is assumed that the man did more than shout ‘Godammit!’ and/or other colorful swear words. He is immediately seized into custody and Moses consults God regarding the punishment. The Divine verdict is swift and harsh – death by stoning. No soap in his mouth, no public service, no fine. What was so extreme in this public cursing to warrant death?

Some commentaries suggest that he actually used the secret Divine name that was heard during the Revelation on Mount Sinai but that nobody was allowed to use publicly. That makes sense - Imagine somebody emailing your private password or ATM pincode to your entire mailing list – pretty bad. Other commentaries blame him for using forms of black magic and conjuring demons via the usage of the Divine Name - voodoo. Either way – he is judged, sentenced and the people of Israel take him out of town, and stone him to death, all within a matter of ten biblical verses.

Ok, wait a minute – what’s going on here? Was this justice? This man who was just killed – how much of his crime has to do with circumstances? The Talmud relates that the reason for the brawl was that as a half breed he was denied the right to dwell among the tribe of Dan – his mother’s family. When a second class citizen, victim of racism, denied of rights, opens his mouth to protest and angrily fight the system that limits his human rights for existence – is the protest itself a crime?

Hints of authoritarian regime tactics linger in this story, as well as residues of racial profiling and harsh justice that just won’t be tolerated by our modern standards. Take Capital Punishment, for instance. Many in the world endorse if today as the word of God – from Texas to Saudi Arabia. But how does this story, along with others in Leviticus, propel us to demand that the taking of lives by governments and societies be stopped? Can one stand and criticize, and critique and challenge authority and reality – and not be accused of being as one who curses that which ‘is’?

There is only one way I can read this story and accept it: as metaphor. There are moments in our lives when a voice within us shouts out in despair, using words that negate reality in terrible and shattering ways. The only way to deal with that inner voice is with a kind understanding – but also with harsh silencing. The man accused of cursing God is really accused of reducing life to a list of profanities, focusing on the half empty glass, dwelling on anger. Right or wrong, justified or vilified – that man polluted the public sphere – just like that driver who threw buckets of verbal excrement on me before driving off. Negative words and vicious curses simply filth up the place. I know – I have done it plenty of times. The death that is prescribed for such behavior can be seen as a suggestion for zero tolerance. Stay positive – take a deep breath – don’t pollute the environment with words that leave a sour trail behind. Being human is a challenging task, and in some ways many of us will find ourselves in situations that render us prejudiced against, or victimized, or hurt. How to react? What is the noble way of dealing with insult? Some suggest silently submitting and being humble and give the other cheek. Others prescribe ‘an eye for an eye.’

There has to be a middle ground – a state of being where we don’t repress anger or protest indignation – but where we respect the power of words as they shape reality. Cursing God, hating life, using foul words not in jest but in hate – somehow, these tend to be destructive. Being critical requires greater craft, a subtle way of telling truth and challenging the status quo. Humor helps.

This sad Biblical story has no happy ending, and it leaves me with the same sour taste as that nasty driving incident. But it does leave me with a commitment to pick up where Shlmoit’s son left off – and continue the constructive critique of short term solutions to challenges – be they in the mouth of a fellow driver or in the word of the Torah. Earlier this week, while thinking about all this, I sat in a class on Pluralism at the Mandel Institute, and was inspired by this great text by Isaiah Berlin. Reminded of the noble task of being human, Berlin also rekindles the higher calling of words:

‘Happy are those who live under a discipline which they accept without question, who freely obey the orders of leaders, spiritual or temporal, whose word is fully accepted as unbreakable law; or those who have, by their own methods, arrived at clear and unshakable convictions about what to do and what to be that brook no possible doubt. I can only say that those who rest on such comfortable beds of dogma are victims of self induced myopia, blinkers that may make for contentment, but not for understanding of what it is to be human.’
-Isaiah Berlin, The Pursuit of the Ideal