Skip to main content


Showing posts from August, 2017

What the Moon Asks

For a few brief moments nearly every American paid attention to the moon. We looked into the afternoon sky—with our protective glasses of course—and watched as the moon obscured the sun. Although most of us do not live in the path of totality we marveled at this celestial phenomenon. But if not for a perfect accident of nature this rare occurrence could never happen. The sun and moon only appear the same size. The sun is actually 400 times larger than the moon. However the moon is 400 times closer to the earth than the sun. And so this perfect accident produced something so marvelous and beautiful that many could come up with no other word to say but “miraculous!” Was it God who perfectly calculated this factor of 400? Do we ascribe the solar eclipse to God’s hand? We are left in awe. Long ago, the ancient rabbis imagined, the moon complained before God. “Why am I the lesser of the two great lights? The sun brightens the day. The sun warms the earth. I am left only to ma

The Dangerous Ideology That Is Cause of Charlottesville

Nearly thirty years ago I visited Natchez Mississippi. It is a beautiful and picturesque city situated on the banks of the Mississippi River. It is dotted with grand, historic mansions. We were led around town by a local guide. At one point she made reference to the War of Northern Aggression. I raised my hand to ask about this unknown war. “I have never heard of this war in all my years of study.” She said, “Y’all know, the war that began in 1861 when the Northern states attacked the South.” I said, “Oh! You mean the Civil War.” “No,” she retorted, “The War of Northern Aggression.” I opened my mouth to argue some more, but others advised me to let it go. Perhaps I should not have. The Civil War was not so much fought over secession. It was about slavery. Southerners believed that other human beings could be bought and sold like property. They were willing to die to preserve this horrible idea. The South lost. And yet as this weekend attests, the struggle continues.

Breaking Bread

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, the great eighteenth century Hasidic rebbe, once saw a man running around in a great hurry. (He must have visited New York City!) He asked the man: “Why are you running?” The man answered: “I am running because I have to earn a living.” Rabbi Levi Yitzhak asked him: “How do you know that this ‘earning a living’ is running away from you so that you have to race after it to catch it? Maybe it is instead behind you, in which case you are fleeing from it.” We chase after many things. We pursue career advancement. We run after bonuses and raises. Perhaps instead our livelihoods are behind us. What gives us life might already be present. We may have already gained that which animates our souls. All we need to do is slow down and look at what is right before our eyes. The Torah concurs: “Man does not live on bread alone.” (Deuteronomy 8:3) This frequently quoted verse suggests that we are sustained by more than just food. And yet this is not w

Teaching Swimming

Twice a day we recite the familiar phrase of the Shema, “You shall diligently teach them to your children.” (Deuteronomy 6:7) What are we obligated to teach? The tradition provides us with specific answers. Parents must teach their children Torah and a craft. Some add, to teach them to swim too. (Kiddushin 29a) The Talmud asks, why do parents need to ensure their children learn a craft. So that they might be self-sufficient and capable of earning a livelihood. Not to teach children a trade is akin to instructing them how to steal. And why swimming lessons? Because their lives might depend on it. (Kiddushin 30b) Swimming is a basic survival skill. Children who do not learn survival skills such as swimming and the practical skills of a craft can not succeed in any society – ancient or modern. The Talmud is very practical. Like today’s parents it wants to make children into successful, well-adjusted adults. But the Talmud also wants to be sure these children become Jewish adult