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10400 Wilshire Blvd.   Los Angeles, CA. 90024   Phone (310) 474-1518   Fax (310) 474-6801

 

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Download Past Off The Pulpit newsletters below:
Writings By Year: 2015 -  2014 - 2013 - 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009 - 2008 - 2007 - 2006 - 2005
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Off The Pulpit: Current NewsletterRabbi David Wolpe "We Are Many"
by Rabbi David Wolpe

We are taught in the Torah that one is supposed to leave a corner of one's field unharvested for the poor ("peah"). The Rabbis in the Mishna ask the following question: What if a man who has fields at home is traveling and hungry; may he take from the peah (yes) and more interestingly, when he gets home, should he contribute to compensate for what he has taken?

Rabbi Eliezer says he must and the sages say he need not. As Rabbi Yosef Kanesfky pointed out when teaching this Mishna, this is an existential question. For Rabbi Eliezer sees the traveler as a wealthy man who was in temporary need, and therefore must pay. But the Sages believe that he was at that moment a poor man, and therefore, though compensating later might be praiseworthy, it is not mandated because the poor don't have to replace the tzedakah they are given.

In other words, the sages are Whitmanesque — we all contain multitudes. No one is insulated from being suddenly in another position: the healthy will be sick, the joyous will be bereaved, the rich man may be brought low. The Mishna is reminding us that in an uncertain world, we will all need each other — we just never know when.

pdf filedownload here

pdfWe Are Many

We are taught in the Torah that one is supposed to leave a corner of one's field unharvested for the poor ("peah"). The Rabbis in the Mishna ask the following question: What if a man who has fields at home is traveling and hungry; may he take from the peah (yes) and more interestingly, when he gets home, should he contribute to compensate for what he has taken?

  ...click here to read more


pdfA Chance For A Miracle

Can a single gesture change a life? On New Year's Eve 1913, a shot rang out. A boy was playing with a pistol, and he was taken by police and put into a house of correction, called "The Colored Waifs Home for Boys."

  ...click here to read more


pdfNo More Angels

We gather around the Shabbat table, put our arms around one other and sing "Shalom Aleichem" — the song that greets the Shabbat angels. By the time we have finished the shabbat song, three minutes later, we are concluding with "Tzaitchem L'shalom" — go in peace, already asking them to leave. The poor angels must wonder why we do not wish them to stick around!

  ...click here to read more


pdfAmerica the Beautiful

On July 4, we should once again recall our extraordinary good fortune. For almost twenty years I have met once a week with Kirk Douglas to study Torah. He is now 98 years old. I once asked him in his remarkable life, what was his greatest blessing? "No doubt about it," he answered, "my greatest blessing is that my parents came to America."

  ...click here to read more


pdfIdeal and Real

It is remarkable how many turning points in Torah are events in a family. Not only Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, but Abraham and Sarah emigrating and Jacob and Esau fighting and Joseph struggling with his brothers. Also, the fidelity of Ruth to Naomi and Esther to Mordecai and Absalom’s betrayal of his father David and Solomon’s succession and on and on.

  ...click here to read more


pdfDo Something!

Judaism has never been a system of belief alone. Judaism is enacted faith. 
 
Immediately following the declaration "Shema" we read about the ways that declaration is carried into the world — teaching children, mezuzah, tzitzit. When a child reaches maturity we do not say they have reached the age of belief, but rather the age of action, a son or daughter of mitzvah. To be a mature Jew is to be an acting Jew. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfTheft or Gift?

The Greek hero Prometheus steals fire from the gods, for which he is chained to a rock and tortured endlessly. In Jewish lore, on the other hand, Adam is afraid when the first night arrives and God instructs him on how to create a fire. When the blaze ignites, Adam says gratefully, "Blessed be the creator of fire." 

  ...click here to read more


pdfFamilies First

It is remarkable how many turning points in Torah are events in a family. Not only Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, but Abraham and Sarah emigrating and Jacob and Esau fighting and Joseph struggling with his brothers. Also, the fidelity of Ruth to Naomi and Esther to Mordecai and Absalom’s betrayal of his father David and Solomon’s succession and on and on.

  ...click here to read more


pdfMusic (Dis)Solves the Riddle

The Psalmist tells us that he will solve a riddle with his harp (Psalm 49:5). What sort of riddle can be solved with a harp? 
 
We are accustomed to thinking of problems as puzzles requiring a single analyzable solution. Can my car fit into this parking space and should I marry this person seem to us in some essential way similar — there is a right and wrong answer, and we need to weigh the factors and arrive at the proper response. The Psalmist is reminding us that some problems are not answered, but dissolved or transcended. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfSelf-Transformation

When Jacob wrestles with the angel until sunrise, the angel tells Jacob to release him as the dawn breaks. Jacob insists on a blessing. The angel asks Jacob his name, and then tells him he is no longer Jacob, but Israel (Gen. 32:25-33). 

  ...click here to read more


pdfOught, Can, Don't

A famous philosophical principle comes to us from Immanuel Kant — 'ought implies can.' In other words, you cannot suggest that someone ought to do something unless in fact, they can do it. This same principle is expressed by the Rabbis when they state that one is not allowed to make a rule that the community cannot abide. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfA Turkey Under the Table?

Rabbi Nahman of Btazlav once told of a prince who suffered from delusions and thought he was a turkey. A wise man cured him by emulating his behavior: crawling under the table, pecking at his food and behaving just like a turkey. Gradually, he began to ask the Prince — "Can't a turkey wear a shirt?" And, "Can't a turkey eat with utensils?" In that way the wise man gradually brought the prince back to acknowledging his humanity. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfLearn and Live

Readers of the Gilgamesh epic are often struck by its similarity to the Bible story. There is a man created from earth who loses paradise, who accepts food from a woman, who is clothed after nakedness, a massive flood, a perfidious snake and much more. Gilgamesh tells of a quest for immortality, and in that quest we see an important distinction. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfMoney, Markets, and Prayer

Once Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev went to the marketplace in the middle of a busy weekday. There he stood and proclaimed lessons from the Torah. One of the men in the market said, "Rabbi, with all due respect, we are trying to conduct business here." "I'm sorry," replied the Berditchever. "I just thought that since you always talk business in the synagogue, I could talk Torah in the marketplace." 

  ...click here to read more


pdfFully Free

Why is the Torah compared by our sages to a marriage contract, to a ketubah

One might suppose that they both limit freedom. Each constrains what a person may do, imposing obligations and restricting choices. But to see it this way is to misunderstand freedom. Freedom is the expansion of opportunity not the absence of obligation. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfIt's A Classic?

In High School I approached a well known Rabbi and told him that I had read one of his books and liked it very much. "Ah, have you read my other book?" he asked. No, I had not. "You should" he told me, "it's a classic." 

  ...click here to read more


pdfThe Story of Rabbi Hiyya

Judaism may seem abstract, but the things that keep it alive are very concrete. If you cannot pay for food and clothes, for the lights and the rooms, the desks and the books, the ideas have nowhere to take root. This deep truth is expressed in a powerful story about Rabbi Hiyya.  

  ...click here to read more


pdfThe Jewish Thing to Do

Jews venerate memory. So important is memory to Jews that one characterization of God in our prayers is Zochair kol Hanishkachot — the one who remembers everything forgotten. To be God is to have the gift of perfect memory.  

  ...click here to read more


pdfIs This A Prayer?

Prayer is supposed to inspire us with the beauty of its language and the grandeur of its conception. In each morning service there is a passage called 'The Thirteen Exegetical (or, hermeneutical) rules of Rabbi Ishmael.' If prayer is supposed to be uplifting one can only wonder why such dry material would be included. Here is a sample of one of the rules: "The particular implied in the general and excepted from it for pedagogic purposes elucidates the general as well as the particular." It hardly sets the spirit aflutter. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfShort!

Mark Twain wrote of his experience in church: "I couldn't wait for him to get through. I had four hundred dollars in my pocket. I wanted to give that and borrow more to give. You could see greenbacks in every eye. But he didn't pass the plate, and it grew hotter and we grew sleepier. My enthusiasm went down, down, down — $100 at a time, till finally when the plate came round I stole 10 cents out of it." 

  ...click here to read more


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

pdfMoses Did Not Take a Selife

When Moses came down from Sinai, the Torah teaches, "He did not know that his face was aglow (Ex. 34:29)." 

This is one of the most inspiring verses in the Torah, awaiting our age to reveal its full depth. Today the slightest sliver of charisma is noted, celebrated and selfied. We are all acutely conscious of our gifts, and encouraged not only to exercise them, but to trumpet their existence to the world. If our faces were glowing, it would be on twitter before the veil lowered.  

  ...click here to read more


pdfMartin Gilbert, in Memoriam

Martin Gilbert, who recently passed away, completed the official biography of Winston Churchill and wrote many other books on Jewish, general, and British history. But he was also an extraordinary mensch. I experienced his kindness myself.

  ...click here to read more


pdfLimp, Skip, Fly

The Hebrew word "Pesach" denotes a holiday, and refers to the angel of death skipping over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. But the same word that means skipping also means "lame." Hidden in that similarity is a deep lesson. 

  ...click here to read more


 

 

 

 

 

January

 

pdfAstonishing Endurance

History can change by very slim margins: had Blucher been a little late to Waterloo or, as Pascal put it, had Cleopatra's nose been longer, the world would have been different. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfIs Judaism Optimistic?

The philosopher Schopenhauer criticized Judaism for being an optimistic religion. One could make a case for Judaism's pessimism based on a history of suffering, or even on certain verses from the Tanach, (e.g. Ecclesiastes 7:1: "the day of death is better than the day of birth"). Nonetheless Schopenhauer was right. Judaism is, in the end, optimistic.

  ...click here to read more


pdfHow Much $$$ Do You Need?

In "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" Tolstoy tells of a man who discovers that for a small fee, he can have as much land as he can walk around in a single day. Driven by greed, the man wakes early, walks so far that he cannot get back to his starting point, and in the end dies of a heart attack brought on by the effort. He is buried in a six foot plot of land, thus ironically answering the title's question. 

  ...click here to read more


 

pdfWatching the Detectives

I am a great fan of mystery novels. I have read more than I can count, along with books about the history of the genre, and have many favorites. Part of the joy is that mysteries both illuminate extremes of human character and satisfy our craving for justice, usually with a clever puzzle thrown in. From Poe's Dupin, often reckoned the first fictional detective, through Holmes and the golden age of Bentley, Christie, and up to Rex Stout, PD James, Connolly and Jo Nesbo today, the detective usually represents, however imperfectly, the thirst for what is right. 

...click here to read more


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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