Anyone familiar with religious practices can testify to the fact that candles play a crucial role in normative observance for many religions. It is not surprising to find an identical phenomenon in Judaism, the mother of so many contemporary beliefs.
The great violinist, Itzhak Perlman, suffered from polio as a child and ever since has been in a wheelchair. On one occasion, while performing a violin concerto, one of the strings broke. It occurred in the very first movement with an audible ping. Everyone waited to see what he would do. With astonishing virtuosity, he continued as if nothing had happened, playing through to the finale using only the remaining three strings.
While studying for rabbinic ordination at Yeshiva University in the late '70s, I was at the main study hall dedication where the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik spoke, honoring the great philanthropist, Joseph Gruss, who underwrote the project.
Recently, I came across a story about a man who made the "unforgivable" mistake of missing his wife's birthday. When the wife expressed her anger, the quick-witted husband responded, "Sweetheart, how do you expect me to remember your birthday when you never look any older?"
If only that were true, and we could find the secret elixir for everlasting youth, we would all be happier. Although some French winemakers would like us to believe that imbibing one glass of French wine each day will do the trick, most of us realize that, considering the alternative, aging is a blessing.
Back in November, when the war in Iraq was looming, Rabbi Elazar Muskin planned a Passover mission to Israel.
A number of years ago, during the O.J. Simpson trial, I had a conversation with a non-Jewish merchant who told me that right after Simpson was arrested, he met a good friend of Simpson's at church. At the conclusion of the service, the merchant happened to stand right behind this man as he thanked the minister for his homily and then asked him, "Reverend, would you please pray for O.J."
Last Rosh Hashana began with the most terrible noise. Terror, trauma, tragedy and evil triumphant filled the air. In addition, Israel and Jews worldwide were subjected to the vilest outburst of anti-Semitism since the 1940s.
In most big cities in the United States, horse-and-buggy rides are offered as tourist attractions. It is therefore not shocking to find them lined up in Philadelphia, right near Constitution Hall and the Liberty Bell.
Morris Leven-ger was a wealthy, pious Jew who lived in Atlan-ta, Georgia, and attended synagogue daily before going to work. One day the rabbi asked for his help with scholarships for youngsters whose families could not afford tuition for Jewish day schools.
The personals sections in an Israeli newspaper contained the following ad:
"Jewish man seeks partner who will attend shul with him, light Shabbat candles, celebrate holidays, build sukkah together, and go with him to brit milah and bar mitzvah celebrations. Religion not important."
The absurdity, of course, makes us laugh, but the humorous story actually emphasizes an important message contained in this week's portion. The Torah underscores that not only is religion itself important, but our attitudes about it are crucial.
A senior colleague once told me that when he was a student in college, he took a creative writing course. One of his classmates could express himself beautifully but could not conceive any creative ideas on his own. He would always turn to my colleague for ideas and then proceed to write an excellent paper. Thanks to his writing skills, he earned a doctorate and eventually became chairman of a English department at a Midwest university.
On the eve of Simchat Torah, many synagogues auction the three major honors of the day, with proceeds benefiting the synagogue or other Jewish institutions. Two honors, Hatan Torah (for the one called to the final reading in Deuteronomy) and Hatan Bereshit (for the one called to the first reading in Genesis), usually receive the highest bids. The third, Kol Hanearim -- supervising the blessing of all minor children as a tallit is held over their heads, while the honoree receives the next-to-last aliyah in Vezot Haberakha -- can be a close second.
A few years ago, two of my colleagues took their families on vacation to Mammoth Lake. While there, the families spent Shabbat with one another, eating their meals together, singing zmirot (Shabbat songs) and enjoying each other's company.
People often complain that if we only had leaders like those in past generations, we would not have the problems we face today. It seems to be a chronic malady that we never are satisfied with the leaders of our own time. Yet, an old Jewish adage states, "each generation receives the leader it deserves." In truth, nowhere is this fact so apparent as in this week's Torah reading.
Students of drama are well acquainted withAristotle's view about the "fatal flaw." Protagonists of tragedy, nomatter how exalted, are brought down by a tragic flaw from within:bad judgment or bad character.
An unusual Buddhist-Jewish dialogue took place inSeptember 1989, when the Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, metwith a group of six Jewish leaders. The Dalai Lama requested themeeting, not because of an academic interest but, rather, because ofa practical need. He wanted to learn the Jewish "secret technique"for survival. "We always talk of Jewish people scattered in so manycountries, speaking so many languages, yet the Jews keep theirtraditions. It's something remarkable," he said.