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Posts by Rabbi David Wolpe

Bring Them Home


For five years Hamas has kept the bodies of two soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul. For six years, an Israeli citizen Avraham Mengistu, has been held by Hamas. One of the byproducts of distress is that it wipes out the distress of others. As the world has been struggling with the pandemic and all kinds of social unrest, many of us have forgotten the heartbreak of the families who remember their loved ones remains untended and unburied, or even worse, imagine the fate of their family member who remains captive. The repatriation of Jewish captives, pidyon shevuyim, is among…

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Quiet?


“Live out loud, you are unique, celebrate who you are.” Our world is awash in such slogans. Self-esteem is prized, self-assertion applauded and spiking the football, rather than arrogance, is considered justifiable pride. There is another way of being in this world described in our tradition. The three Hebrew letters for “me” – aleph, nun and yod, can be rearranged to spell “ayin” which means “nothing.” When I was learning counseling I read of the practice of “bittul hayesh” – nullifying the self, in order to make space for others. It is not a lack of belief in one’s own…

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Three Short Shofar Lessons


The one who blows the shofar produces the sound from within his or her body. The force of the shofar is breath, in Hebrew, ruah – spirit. In order to create the sound properly one must bring one’s spirit to the world. The second lesson is how one creates the sound. As Cynthia Ozick observed, the shofar has a broad end and a narrow end. If you begin by blowing in the broad end, you get nothing. But if you blow in the narrow end you get a sound everyone can hear. Judaism may seem like one small tradition in a large world. But Jews who have…

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How Life Imitates Chess


While the pandemic has been disastrous for many activities, it has been a boon for chess. Online tournaments have exploded, thanks largely to the world champion Magnus Carlsen. I became a chess player at 14, and fell so deeply into the game that on my bedroom door in high school, was a quote from Grandmaster Isaiah Horowitz: “Of chess they say that life is not long enough for it, but that is the fault of life, not chess.” So it was a particular thrill to have lunch last year with Garry Kasparov, perhaps the greatest player in the history of…

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Whose Ancestor Are You?


When John Churchill, later the Duke of Marlborough, became a peer in 1682, another lord asked Churchill with a sneer, “whose descendant are you?” Churchill answered, “I am not a descendant. I am an ancestor.” Churchill was prophetic, as he was in fact the ancestor of Winston Churchill, who would be his eventual biographer as well. Moreover, his response challenges all of us. We know what we have gotten from the past — what will we give to the future? This is a crucial time for the Jewish community. Synagogues are struggling with membership. Jewish schools, camps and federations are…

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The Pleasure Of Ruins


More than 50 years ago, Rose Macaulay wrote a book about the delight we take in looking at archeological and antiquarian sites. In “Pleasure of Ruins” she catalogues the various reasons human beings like to look at the remains of other civilizations, from wonder at what they have accomplished to delight at having outlived them. Visiting the oracle of Delphi when on sabbatical, I felt the strange thrill of being in a place so sacred to the ancient Greeks, where Socrates learned that he was the wisest man for acknowledging his own ignorance, where generations came to discover their fate….

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It’s Really About Me


Despite the vitriol in our public debates, what you believe is less important than what your beliefs have made of you. The Kotzker Rebbe taught that you can stand under the chuppah, the wedding canopy, and say one hundred times “I betroth you” but until you say ‘li’ — “to me” — it means nothing. Our beliefs are theoretical until they touch us. We find it easy to criticize the beliefs and prejudices of others. But how difficult it is to reckon with our own biases and anger. Even as I write these words I know people will read them…

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The Last Paper


For thirty years I have been writing a “Musings” column of roughly two hundred words each week for The Jewish Week. In time these columns went out electronically as well, titled “Off The Pulpit” and now appear in the Times of Israel. The Jewish Week is going digital, so this will be the final column to appear in an actual “paper.” This week leads up to Tisha B’av. (Wait, there is a connection here!) The destruction of the Temple forced the Jews to transcend the physical message. We had to contend with the destruction of our central structure and recognize…

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You Are Not Your Group


The Rabbis ask — why is God said to love the righteous? Because their worth is due neither to their heritage nor to their family. Not anyone, they goes on to explain, can be a Priest in the Temple or a Levite, but anyone, Jewish or not Jewish, can be righteous and therefore loved by God (Num R. 8:2). This may be the crucial Jewish teaching for our time. The deep premise of identity politics is that your group defines you. While Judaism certainly understands that being a Jew is part of what makes us who we are, it is…

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The Holy Fire


In December 1950, a Polish construction worker unearthing the foundations of a building found a buried cannister. Miraculously, the legacy of a great spirit was preserved in that improbable vessel. Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the Rebbe of the Warsaw ghetto, who did not survive the war, posthumously gave his teachings to our world. Known as the Esh Kodesh, Holy Fire, his is a mystical and complex Torah. They are lessons clearly wrung from the depths of suffering. As Nehemiah Polen writes, “That he did not allow himself to be crushed by the events of the war was surely his greatest…

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