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Off The Pulpit: Current NewsletterRabbi David Wolpe   "The Secret of Elijah"
by Rabbi David Wolpe


A disciple of the Baal Shem Tov yearned to meet Elijah, herald of redemption. The Baal Shem Tov told him it could happen. All he needed to do was to go to the home of a very poor but pious family that lived in the forest, bring them food and wine for Rosh Hashanah, eat and pray with them, and at the end of the holiday Elijah would appear. 

The Hasid did as he was told. But at the end of the holiday, Elijah did not arrive. Returning to ask why his request had not been granted, the Baal Shem told him, "It does not happen all at once. Now for each of the ten days of repentance, bring more food. Then before Yom Kippur supply them with enough to sustain the family so they can fast. Sit and pray and fast with them, and at havdalah after Yom Kippur when you sing to Elijah, you will receive what you wish." 

Once more the man did as the Baal Shem instructed; he brought food and fasted and prayed. Yet when Yom Kippur ended, Elijah did not appear. He returned dispirited to his teacher. "Why was I not granted a vision?" he asked. "Because," answered the Baal Shem, "it was not important that you see Elijah. It was important that you be Elijah." 

All of us have the power to bring hope and help to others in need. We can herald redemption. This year, be Elijah.

pdf filedownload here

pdfThe Secret of Elijah

A disciple of the Baal Shem Tov yearned to meet Elijah, herald of redemption. The Baal Shem Tov told him it could happen. All he needed to do was to go to the home of a very poor but pious family that lived in the forest, bring them food and wine for Rosh Hashanah, eat and pray with them, and at the end of the holiday Elijah would appear. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfOther People's Sins

Why is the confessional on Yom Kippur in the plural? There are many answers to this question, because on some level it seems inappropriate to take upon ourselves sins we have not committed. Why should we admit to things of which we are guiltless?

  ...click here to read more


pdfConfronting What You Know

Donald Rumsfeld famously said: "As we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know." 

  ...click here to read more


pdfBlank Walls

On August 21st, 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre. During the 21/2-year period before it was recovered and restored to the museum, more people came to stare at the empty space where the famous masterpiece once hung, than visited in the ten preceding years to view the painting itself. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfHave Courage

There are always reasons to be afraid. The prevalence of danger can be incapacitating. The same inaction that afflicts a frightened individual can befall a people: then optimism is really fear in disguise and indolence is the result of feeling paralyzed by the possibilities of failure. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfFollowing Your Heart

The first piece of land purchased in Israel is the cave of Machpelah that Abraham buys to bury Sarah. Of course, Abraham too, will be buried there, as will Isaac and Rebekah and Jacob and Leah. So while the first plot of land in Israel is an acknowledgment of the sovereignty of death it is also a marker of the eternity of love. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfThe Essential Jewish Message

The Jewish people brought the idea of one God to the world. Although there have been vastly different ideas about the nature of that God — including the recognition that we cannot, with our limited capacities, truly know God's nature — one thing has remained consistent. Whatever God is, the existence of God demands certain things from human beings. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfShould Jews Hunt?

As a vegetarian I have given some thought to the place of animals in Jewish tradition. Different views on the place of animals in the scheme of life is an old controversy. In the middle ages, Saadiah Gaon speculates that there is a reward for animals in the hereafter, and the later sage Maimonides ridicules the idea. Whatever their metaphysical status however, there are Talmudic stories where cruelty to animals is punished, and sparing suffering is consistent with all of Jewish teaching. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfHidden Treasures

Hebrew has no one letter words. The word for "I" is Ani which begins with the letter aleph. Aleph is a silent letter. Referring to oneself then, should begin in silence. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfFruits From the Tree

Professor Louis Ginzberg was the greatest scholar of rabbinic Midrash in his day, with a vast range of learning in many languages. My father told me that once, at a reception at the Jewish Theological Seminary where Ginzberg taught, a woman approached him and in the course of discussion, began arguing with him about a point in Midrash. After a long, fruitless argument, Ginzberg said, "Why don't we check the Jewish Encyclopedia — would you accept that as an authority?" The woman agreed. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfEscaping Oblivion

Sending his son Adam some stamps, Saul Bellow wrote in the accompanying note, "Countries sometimes disappear leaving nothing behind but postage stamps." Anyone who has studied history must indeed be mystified at what endures — the shopping lists of ancient Sumer or obscure graffiti scratched on a prehistoric cave. As in Shelley's "Ozymandias," what we think will survive often disappears with barely a trace.  

  ...click here to read more


 

pdfThe Funeral Director

A word for a profoundly Jewish, but often disrespected profession: God bless funeral directors. 

For many years as a Rabbi, I have marveled at the skill and care of funeral directors. My father, a Rabbi in Philadelphia, would often recount how his friend, Joseph Levine, would care for those who were bereaved and frightened, and gently guide them.

  ...click here to read more


pdfParataxis

Rabbi Moshe Taub pointed out to me that of the eighty-five sentences in the book of Ruth, all but eight begin with "and." Parataxis is the name scholars give to the practice of recounting a string of happenings without explanation or causality. E.M. Forster wrote that, "the queen died and the king died" is a story; "The queen died and the king died of grief" is a plot. Children tell plotless, paratactic stories: "and he said. And I said. And then..." 

  ...click here to read more


pdfBefore and After

The Talmud teaches us (Berachot, 21a) that the requirement to say a blessing after a meal comes from a verse in the Torah (Deut. 8:10) and to recite it before the meal comes from a logical imperative. But, the reverse is true with Torah study; the source for reciting a blessing before is from a verse (Deut. 32:3). 

  ...click here to read more


pdfSchooled by Suffering

Virgil's Dido declares, "I have known sorrow — and learned to help the sad." In that simple declaration is much of the secret of human wisdom. Our own experience should move through an internal sifting process of learning and growth, and school us into a means for helping others.

  ...click here to read more


 

 

 

 

 

pdfTaking Panes

One should pray in a room that has windows. In e Talmud R. Hiyya Bar Abba cites the book of Daniel, (6:11): "and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem [he prayed]."

  ...click here to read more


pdfA Very Great Distance

For the first time on this year's Israel Independence Day, there are over six million Jews living in the land of Israel. More Jews live in Israel than were murdered in the Shoah.

  ...click here to read more


pdfRabbi Yisroel and the Cat

Once, right before Yom Kippur, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter was seen scurrying about, trying to get a cat to enter his home. His students were puzzled — why was their famous teacher bothering with a cat, and why on the eve of the holiest day of the year?

  ...click here to read more


pdfHate Your Brother?

Famously, we are told to, "Love your neighbor as yourself." But in the preceding verse we are advised, "Do not hate your brother in your heart." (Lev. 19:17-18) Why are we commanded to love our neighbor and only commanded not to hate our brother?

  ...click here to read more


pdfJe Ne Regrette Rien

People sometimes say that they have no regrets. I confess I am at a loss to understand the statement.

  ...click here to read more


 

pdfWhat's in a Name?

The Hebrew book of Exodus is called "Sh'mot," names. Yet the first extended story, about the slavery from Egypt, records none of the names of the Egyptians save for the midwives, Shifra and Puah (although some commentators claim them as Jews, it seems clear the Torah intends them to be taken for Egyptians.) Even Pharaoh is a title, not a name — one of the reasons it is so difficult to determine which Pharaoh should be associated with the time period.

  ...click here to read more


pdfA Parenting Lesson

The first morning blessing thanks God for the ability to distinguish between day and night. The most immediate reference is to the dawn; the worshiper wakes and is grateful for the rising sun. But as Passover reminds us, there is a deeper meaning.

  ...click here to read more


pdfA Parenting Lesson

When Adam and Eve are fashioned in the Garden of Eden, the Torah makes an important editorial comment: "Therefore a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife." My best guess is that comment was to pacify parents.

  ...click here to read more


 

pdfChoice, Fate, and Faith

The great Greek playwright Aeschylus tells us that Prometheus gave the world two gifts — fire and ignorance of our own fate. In other words, an uncertain future, and the power to shape it; both light and darkness.

  ...click here to read more


pdf"Is That What You're Wearing?"

One of the greatest pleasures of Shabbat is disapproving of what other people wear. So please, permit me the pleasure. The Talmud comments that honoring the Sabbath mandates that one's dress not be the same as on weekdays. In the Torah Rebecca helped Jacob impersonate his brother not only by putting hair on Jacob's arms, but by dressing him in Esau's clothes. Rabbi Naphtali of Rushpitz's explanation is that Rebecca understood that dressing like Esau would allow Jacob to feel more like Esau, because what we wear effects who we are.

  ...click here to read more


pdfAre You Really Sure?

The human mind inclines toward certainty. Having been involved in my share of arguments, beginning with the childhood dinner table (an excellent place to learn both the skills of debate and the fine art of going only slightly too far), I know that arguing is mostly a process of persuading oneself that one was right in the first place. Who has not heard scientists extol the certainties of scientific knowledge, religious people astonishingly secure in their understanding of God, and all of us pronounce others "simply wrong" with no more prompting or expertise than the skill of thumping a fist and nodding a head?

  ...click here to read more


pdfParadox, Pompey, and the Female Mosquito

The ancient historian Tacitus recounts that when Jerusalem was conquered and the Roman general Pompey walked into the Holy of Holies in the Temple, he found it empty. Surely this perplexed the future Emperor. Uniquely among ancient civilizations, there was no image or picture of God in the Temple. Pompey probably did not know it, but he was witnessing Judaism’s greatest counterintuitive gift to the world.

  ...click here to read more


pdfParadox, Pompey, and the Female Mosquito

The ancient historian Tacitus recounts that when Jerusalem was conquered and the Roman general Pompey walked into the Holy of Holies in the Temple, he found it empty. Surely this perplexed the future Emperor. Uniquely among ancient civilizations, there was no image or picture of God in the Temple. Pompey probably did not know it, but he was witnessing Judaism’s greatest counterintuitive gift to the world.

  ...click here to read more


 

pdfTorah: To Elevate Or Denigrate?

"Jerusalem was destroyed" teaches the Talmud, "because judgments were rendered strictly upon the law of the Torah." In other words, the quality of mercy was missing from the courts of the day. Untempered by humility and humanity, the law is destructive.

  ...click here to read more


pdf5 Books For Everyone to Read

I'm often asked to recommend books. Here 5 unique and powerful modern works that you may have missed or forgotten. These works will enrich, elevate and educate any Jew, indeed, any human being. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfGive it Away!

Rabbi Tarfon was very rich. One day Rabbi Akiva met him and said "My master, shall I purchase for you a town or two?" "Yes" said Rabbi Tarfon, and immediately gave Rabbi Akiva 4,000 gold dinars. Akiva distributed the money to poor scholars. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfIdolatry

Idolatry is alluring. An idol is something one can touch and feel and is made with human hands. Although idols in antiquity traditionally represented forces beyond themselves, they were still the visible, tangible symbols to which people clung and to which they prayed.

  ...click here to read more


 

 

 

 

 

January

pdfBaseball and Memory

When I was nine my father took me from Harrisburg to Baltimore for my first live baseball game. The Orioles won, 6-2 (I remember that Elston Howard hit a home run for the Yankees.) We drove back home and I slept the entire way, shocked and muddled when we pulled up in front of the house. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfThe Masterpiece of Sorrow

The book of Job is sunk in sorrow. It tells the troubling story of a man tested by every misfortune, including the egregious speeches of his friends, who manages nonetheless to keep faith. Job refuses to turn away from the God who has turned away from him. 

  ...click here to read more


 

pdfNo Knowing God

Our ideas of God are expressed through metaphors. Since we cannot begin to know what God is, we try to imagine what God is like — a King, a rock, a father, a fortress, a protector. As we expand our images so we expand our conception of God. 

When we read in Isaiah, "As a mother comforts her son, so I will comfort you" (66:13) it presents a different God than the usual imagery. It is the same God, of course, but our minds and souls embrace a larger idea. 

...click here to read more


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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