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Posts by Rabbi David Wolpe

Worlds of Childhood


One of childhood’s great pleasures is to populate the world with imagination. It does not require elaborate equipment to engage a child. As the Italian poet Leopardi said, “children find everything in nothing; men find nothing in everything.”  Increasingly however, we are putting adult toys in children’s hands. Instead of filling the world with their own images they are presented with characters on screens, entertainment made by adults to hypnotize the attention of children. In place of a quiet and waiting world to be filled with the genius of young fantasy, there is a busy, buzzing, multicolor display ready to…

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The Valley of the Shadow


After the death of Aaron’s sons, God instructs Aaron on various rituals, including the atonement ritual on behalf of the people. There are three important lessons about grief in this juxtaposition.  You must return to the world. The Seudat Ha’avarah, the meal of passage, that follows shivah, is intended to begin the reclamation of the mourner. In the words of the 23rd Psalm, wewalk through the valley of the shadow of death, we do not stay there. Doing something for others can help you both forget your own trouble and remember that grief is universal. Aaron was instructed on atonement for…

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Make ‘Em Laugh


Humor is the balancing pole of the tightrope of life, and Jews have always used humor to remain upright. So for example, the Talmud teaches that if a fledgling bird is found fifty cubits within a man’s property, it belongs to the owner of the property. If it is outside fifty cubits, it belongs to the person who finds it. A reasonable law, surely.  Along comes Rabbi Jeremiah and asks a question that actually got him thrown out of the academy: “What if one foot is within fifty cubits and one foot is outside fifty?” I can just imagine the…

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On Fire


“So Moses said, ‘I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.’ When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’”   Our Rabbis teach that Moses was distinguished by being the first who noticed the bush on fire but not turning to ashes. Only when God saw Moses turn aside does God call out. For some the burning bush is a metaphor of faith, that we should be on fire but not consumed. It also reminds us…

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Pour Out Your Wrath


After drinking the third cup of wine at the Seder, we open the door for Elijah and speak harsh words, asking God to pour out wrath on those who have devastated Jacob and laid waste to his dwellings.  Some are uncomfortable with these verses. Yet they are important for at least two distinct reasons.  First, we owe a legacy of anger to the past. The Jews who suffered for generations deserve our indignation for everything they endured. Our own good fortune does not cancel their anguish, and their right to anger that we express on their behalf. Out of all…

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All In One Meal


You can find almost every important Jewish value in one ceremony, the Passover Seder:  1. The story — The story of our people, biblical, rabbinic and beyond, retold through the generations, always with new interpretations.  2. Food — When the prophet Elijah is stranded in the wilderness and an angel comes to comfort, what does the angel say? “Eat something!” (I Kings, 19:5). No Jew without food. 3. Children — The Seder is taken from the past and points toward the future. It is a clebration with children always in mind, from the opening words to the closing song.  4….

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Found in Translation


Ours is the age of translation. There are more Jewish texts available in English than in any language at any time in history. Not only are Hebrew and Aramaic texts translated, but also works in Yiddish, Ladino, German, French, and the countless other languages Jews have spoken throughout the centuries.  From beginning we were a polyglot people. It is part of the condition of exile. Moses was raised speaking Egyptian, in ancient times the Torah was rendered into Aramaic and Greek, and some words in old French are known because the medieval commentator Rashi uses them to illuminate phrases in…

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No More Miracles


All of the Torah points to arriving in the land of Israel. How is that grand arrival announced? Right before the conquest of Jericho, in Joshua, (5:11,12) we read: “On that day when they ate the produce of the land, the manna ceased. The Israelites got no more manna.”  That is the grand declaration. No fanfare. You are in the land because food no longer drops from the sky. You know you’ve arrived when the miracle is over. Of course there are other miracles to follow in the Tanach. Nonetheless the message endures: once you inherit the land of Israel…

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Measuring A Life


A little over a year ago my daughter told me how my Apple iPhone counts my steps each day  I had lived in blissful ignorance of this invention. Now I check my steps, wonder whether I should have more steps, worry on Shabbat (when I do not carry my phone) how many steps I am ‘missing” and generally have found an entirely new field to uselessly obsess over.  We measure everything about our lives these days — not only calories but our cholesterol, our heart rates, our income; we are subjected to an endless stream of poll numbers and surveys…

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Plus Ultra


All discovery creates new senses of possibility. The motto on the crest of Ferdinand and Isabella had been ne plus ultra — no more beyond. After Columbus discovered America, the ne was removed. Now the crest read: beyond this, more.   When we discover a sense of God in our lives, a new dimension is opened up for us. Before there was a limit on reality, now it soars beyond anything we had imagined. Where there were walls, there is an intimation of sky.  For Judaism the sacred is a realm that both permeates the everyday and extends far beyond…

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