Off the Pulpit


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Artists and Passengers

The medieval poet Moses Ibn Ezra used the following simile: We are like passengers on a ship, believing we are stationary when in fact we are headed toward a destination. Similarly, we do not realize that as we believe our lives to be steady state, we move inexorably toward death. Judaism is neither fixated on death nor in denial about it. We return from a funeral to food; the “meal of transition” affirms that however sad, mourners are alive, and the needs of the living must be addressed. Remembering the dead is a sacred obligation. Those who remember should themselves…

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Spiritual Fractals

The cauliflower explains a lot about the Jewish tradition. A fractal is a self-similar pattern, whose scale or size differs. Things in nature display different degrees of such self-similarity — break a cauliflower apart and a piece will look like a whole. Much of the modern interest in fractals is due to the work of Benoit Mandelbrot, a Jewish mathematician born in Warsaw who left before the war and went on to have a very distinguished career. Our sages teach that the deeds of the ancestors are signs for the children. In other words, Jewish history repeats itself, and if…

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New Year Resolutions

Resolutions for the New Year: 1. To laugh often, but in amusement, not in derision. 2. To pray often, but with appreciation, not avarice. 3. To lift my eyes from screens and remind myself of the variety, beauty, occasional savagery and sublimity of God’s created world. 4. To try listening without simultaneously preparing a response. 5. To believe that opinions other than my own, especially on things Jewish and things American, deserve the dignity of serious appraisal. 6. To recognize that as a fortunate person I cannot permit myself the luxury of exhausting my compassion for others. 7. To push…

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