Off the Pulpit


Which is true:
• “Nothing ventured nothing gained” or “fools rush in where angels fear to tread?”
• “He who hesitates is lost” or “look before you leap?”
• “Out of sight out of mind” or “absence makes the heart grow fonder”?

Two things, as Samuel Johnson said, imputed to the human heart may not both be logical, but they can both be true. Human beings embrace paradox, which is why faith is often paradoxical. Judaism understands the wisdom enunciated last century by Oscar Wilde, that a deep truth is anything the opposite of which is also a deep truth.

Therefore, our year is laced with paradoxes: Happiness in the midst of mourning, advice to cling to the past and never forfeit the future, certainty that we should expend all our efforts and energy on this world and yet never quite despair that there is something beyond it.

Asked what constitutes a true Jew, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vorki replied: “Upright kneeling, silent screaming, motionless dance.” Clasp all the sides of life whose raging inconsistencies will not allow us a smooth, untwisted path. Nothing is absolute — not our kneeling, our screaming, or our dance. For as we dance kneeling and scream, we stand upright, silent, motionless, in wonderment at the ambiguities and fruitfulness of God’s world.