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Showing posts from August, 2018

It's About Character

John McCain Achieved in Defeat What Few of Us Achieve in Victory I have been reading about Senator John McCain. I have always admired his unrivaled courage—I recall his decision to remain in a Vietnam prison and not abandon his fellow POW’s, his devotion to principles—I remember in particular his arguments against the torture of suspected terrorists, and his devotion to our country—I cannot forget his concession speech after losing the 2008 election to Barak Obama. That speech, and that moment, remains one of the greatest moments of American democracy. After elections, the victors speak about grand promises and future hopes. The losers lean on values and ideals. McCain’s character emerges. He said: It is natural tonight to feel some disappointment, but tomorrow we must move beyond it and work together to get our country moving again. We fought — we fought as hard as we could. And though we fell short, the failure is mine, not yours. That is leadership. “The failure is min

Mistakes, a Bird's Nest and Compassion

Well, this is embarrassing. Last week I mistakenly wrote about the wrong Torah portion. Deuteronomy 29 is found in Nitzavim, the portion read two weeks from now. Last week I studied Nitzavim with a bat mitzvah student and my mind remained focused on our discussion. While I realize that many would be hesitant to point this mistake out to their rabbi I would be remiss if I did not confess this error—especially given this season of repentance and most especially given that last week I wrote about publicly proclaiming one’s mistakes.   Now that’s ironic—and even amusing. We can only really correct our flaws if we declare them to others. If they remain hidden they remain flaws. If they are revealed, they can be transformed into strengths. This week we read from Ki Tetzei. I have double and triple checked this fact. It contains the most commandments of any weekly reading. According to Moses Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish philosopher, there are 72 commandments. Unique,

Secrets and Sins

There is a lot of talk about secrets these days. Former CIA director John Brennan no longer has access to our nation’s secrets. Omarosa claims she has access to lots of them. People whisper in hushed tones about this neighbor or that. The supermarket tabloids claim to reveal titillating secrets about one movie star after another. Today they are filled with tidbits about Aretha Franklin. (May her memory be for a blessing and her songs continue to fill our hearts.) I take comfort in the Torah’s words. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God...” (Deuteronomy) No one can truly know another’s secret. No one can reveal another’s truth. Secrets are for the individual to share or for the individual to reveal. The great Hasidic rabbi, Menahem Mendl of Kotzk, commented: “Other Hasidim perform the commandments in the open and their sins in private. My Hasidim commit their sins in public and observe the commandments in private.” It is a strange, and counterintuitive, teaching. Who

Is Faith as Easy as Relinquishing Control?

My wife and I recently traveled to Albuquerque. In addition to visiting Jesse’s house of Breaking Bad fame, and tasting too many new tequilas, we signed up for a hot air balloon ride. It was the most remarkable of low-tech adventures. We arrived before sunrise. After driving to an empty parking lot, the gigantic balloon was unfurled. Large fans were positioned by the opening. Volunteers were requested to hold the balloon open as the fans filled the balloon with air. The large basket was positioned on its side and attached to the balloon by four carabineers. Propane burners were lit, and the balloon was filled with hot air. It gently rose off the ground and lifted the basket off its side. Two men held the basket in place while the pilot climbed aboard. One by one, he instructed the twelve passengers to take their place, positioning us so that our weight helped to keep the basket level. He gave us our safety instructions. With the humor of a Southwest flight attendant, he taug

Baseball and the High Holidays

Every sport has a peculiar set of rules. Soccer has yellow cards. Football a false start. Basketball has a flagrant one and even two. Hockey icing. Australian Rules Football has…I have no idea. Unique among these sports stands baseball. No other sport keeps track of errors and makes a distinction between an earned hit and advancing to a base on an error. At each game the scorer sits in a box and makes the determination: earned or error. At the end of the game there is a tally: runs, hits and errors. And yet, in determining the standings all that matters are the number of runs. This, and this alone, determines the winner and loser of the game. And yet there it stands: the team’s hits and the team’s errors. I know of no other sport that tracks errors and mistakes. A team can lose despite earning many hits. And a team can win despite committing a number of errors. Saturday is the first day of the month of Elul. It marks the beginning of the High Holiday period, a time of

Remember and Don't Forget

According to rabbinic legend a fetus knows the entire Torah when in the womb. When the baby is born, however, an angel kisses the baby on the lip, producing the recognized indentation, and the child forgets everything. Now this child must spend a lifetime learning Torah. It is a curious legend. The rabbis imagined that we begin life knowing everything but then immediately forget everything. Years ago, as my grandmother withered away in a nursing home, we watched her mind become increasingly vacant. Her body remained strong years beyond her mind’s forgetfulness. She felt it happening and understood that she was forgetting more and more. In fact, when she learned that she would soon become a great grandmother she remarked, “What good will that be if I don’t have my mind.” She knew that her dementia was growing increasingly worse. There grew a terror in her eyes. And then she forgot everything. For our Jewish tradition forgetting is a cardinal sin. We are commanded again and