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Showing posts from July, 2022

The Importance of Keeping Our Word

The Torah states: “Moses spoke to the heads of the Israelite tribes, saying, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded: when people make vows or take an oath, they shall not break their pledge; they must carry out all that has crossed their lips.’” (Numbers 30) Commentators ask, “Why did Moses speak to the heads of the tribes? Why did he direct his words to the leaders and not all the people?” And like most rabbis, they answer their own questions. The Hatam Sofer, a leading nineteenth century rabbi, responds: “The reason is that leaders often make all types of promises which they don’t keep. Because they often go back on their promises, this warning was aimed specifically at them.” Leaders should be the most careful with their words. They should be more careful than everyone else. The Torah’s counsel remains even more relevant today. Its teachings are a reminder of the power of what we say, and promise, and the importance of keeping our word.

The Wilderness Light Is Nearby

Ed Yong writes: “More than a third of humanity, and almost 80 percent of North Americans, can no longer see the Milky Way. ‘The thought of light traveling billions of years from distant galaxies only to be washed out in the last billionth of a second by the glow from the nearest strip mall depresses me to no end,’ the visual ecologist Sönke Johnsen once wrote.”  (“How Animals Perceive the Word," The Atlantic, July/August 2022) Sometimes a phrase startles. It radiates meaning. I can still recall those few, miraculous times when I witnessed the nighttime sky iridescent with millions of stars. One instance was many years ago when I was hiking in the Sinai desert. There, after the light of the campfire was extinguished, I looked up to see the blackness filled with innumerable stars. When I look up from my backyard, I can often see a few stars, but nothing as luminous as when I turned my eyes upward from the Sinai wilderness. That difference is only a matter of a billionth of a sec

Mr. President, Visit the Parks and Coffee Shops

President Biden arrived in Jerusalem yesterday. He is staying a short walk from the institute where my wife Susie and I are studying. The other evening, we walked home past the King David Hotel where the president is staying and made our way through Liberty Bell Park. It was filled with Muslims celebrating Eid al-Adha, the holiday commemorating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. (Islam’s version of this story is different than Judaism’s.) There was enthusiasm, and ease, in the air as families shared picnic dinners and children played on the basketball courts. We then made our way to the First Station, the renovated space of what was once the train station where people arrived in Jerusalem when they traveled from Tel Aviv. There, among the restaurants, bars and shops, we discovered secular, ultra-Orthodox and Arab Israelis, as well as a fair number of rabbis from our program. In one area, Israelis were taking a dance class and in another, they were enjoying a lat

Walking Jerusalem's Streets, Walking to Redemption

In 1996, the leading American Jewish historian, Jonathan Sarna wrote: “The Zion of the American Jewish imagination became something of a fantasy land: a seductive heaven-on-earth, where enemies were vanquished, guilt assuaged, hopes realized, and deeply felt longings satisfied.” The Torah reports: “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.’” (Numbers 20) This week, I returned to Jerusalem after a three-year pandemic induced hiatus. Walking the streets of Jerusalem, even though still jet-lagged, felt immediately restorative. I have returned home. I wonder. Is this imagined or real? It is an incalculable blessing to live in this unparalleled time in Jewish history.... This post continues on The Times of Israel.