Off the Pulpit


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Honoring “And”

Can one combine Torah and secular study, religious devotion and participation in the world? In a letter written shortly before his death, Rabbi Shagar (Shimon Gershon Rosenberg) put it this way: “It should be interpreted in the vein of Franz Rosenzweig, who described the ‘and’ as the keystone that supports the entire edifice and imbues it with meaning.” It is easy to put up hard and fast walls and ignore the reality that everything we are and think interpenetrates, that we are raveled as rugs. As another great Jewish thinker, Rabbi Harold Schulweis, once wrote: “Beware of split thinking, schizophrenic…

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Thunder Road

“From the crooked timber of humanity” said Immanuel Kant, “nothing straight can be made.” This famous shot of pessimism from one of history’s preeminent philosophers makes an interesting contrast with the rabbinic comment in the Talmud: “Thunder was created only to straighten the crookedness in a human heart (Ber. 59a).” The Rabbis were as cognizant as Kant of all the wickedness people do. But they believed that being shocked into reflecting on God’s majesty and the wonder of the natural world, could serve as a corrective. Just as when we beat our breasts during the confessional, hearts can be roused to goodness. In…

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A Holy Man Of Laughter: My Encounter With The Dalai Lama

The first thing that strikes a visitor to the Dalai Lama is the absence of majesty. You walk up bare concrete steps, past some trees and a building and hear street sounds. This is not the Vatican, or the White House; though it houses a man as well known as any in the world, the only indication is the rigorousness of security. Your cell phone is taken and you are frisked thoroughly — really thoroughly. The man standing next to me had the security guard comb through his Afro with his fingers several times, and everyone surrendered a passport. My…

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