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Off The Pulpit: Current NewsletterRabbi David Wolpe   "Families First"
by Rabbi David Wolpe

It is remarkable how many turning points in Torah are events in a family. Not only Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, but Abraham and Sarah emigrating and Jacob and Esau fighting and Joseph struggling with his brothers. Also, the fidelity of Ruth to Naomi and Esther to Mordecai and Absalom’s betrayal of his father David and Solomon’s succession and on and on. 
There are grand sweeping events and national crises as well. Yet for a book that unfolds the drama of the created world, the Tanach reminds us repeatedly that families are the lifeblood of a nation. I once heard Israeli writer Amos Oz say that he would rather be a fly on the wall in the living room of any family than an astronaut because there is more adventure in the former than the latter. 
When we turn the dinner table into an altar through prayer, when we place our hands on our children’s heads and bless them, we are enacting the great human drama. It is natural to assume that an epic should be set on the battlefield or mountaintop. But the Torah reminds us everything begins with families, the precious first spring of human hopes, errors and dreams.

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pdfFamilies First

It is remarkable how many turning points in Torah are events in a family. Not only Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, but Abraham and Sarah emigrating and Jacob and Esau fighting and Joseph struggling with his brothers. Also, the fidelity of Ruth to Naomi and Esther to Mordecai and Absalom’s betrayal of his father David and Solomon’s succession and on and on.

  ...click here to read more

pdfMusic (Dis)Solves the Riddle

The Psalmist tells us that he will solve a riddle with his harp (Psalm 49:5). What sort of riddle can be solved with a harp? 
We are accustomed to thinking of problems as puzzles requiring a single analyzable solution. Can my car fit into this parking space and should I marry this person seem to us in some essential way similar — there is a right and wrong answer, and we need to weigh the factors and arrive at the proper response. The Psalmist is reminding us that some problems are not answered, but dissolved or transcended. 

  ...click here to read more


When Jacob wrestles with the angel until sunrise, the angel tells Jacob to release him as the dawn breaks. Jacob insists on a blessing. The angel asks Jacob his name, and then tells him he is no longer Jacob, but Israel (Gen. 32:25-33). 

  ...click here to read more

pdfOught, Can, Don't

A famous philosophical principle comes to us from Immanuel Kant — 'ought implies can.' In other words, you cannot suggest that someone ought to do something unless in fact, they can do it. This same principle is expressed by the Rabbis when they state that one is not allowed to make a rule that the community cannot abide. 

  ...click here to read more

pdfA Turkey Under the Table?

Rabbi Nahman of Btazlav once told of a prince who suffered from delusions and thought he was a turkey. A wise man cured him by emulating his behavior: crawling under the table, pecking at his food and behaving just like a turkey. Gradually, he began to ask the Prince — "Can't a turkey wear a shirt?" And, "Can't a turkey eat with utensils?" In that way the wise man gradually brought the prince back to acknowledging his humanity. 

  ...click here to read more

pdfLearn and Live

Readers of the Gilgamesh epic are often struck by its similarity to the Bible story. There is a man created from earth who loses paradise, who accepts food from a woman, who is clothed after nakedness, a massive flood, a perfidious snake and much more. Gilgamesh tells of a quest for immortality, and in that quest we see an important distinction. 

  ...click here to read more

pdfMoney, Markets, and Prayer

Once Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev went to the marketplace in the middle of a busy weekday. There he stood and proclaimed lessons from the Torah. One of the men in the market said, "Rabbi, with all due respect, we are trying to conduct business here." "I'm sorry," replied the Berditchever. "I just thought that since you always talk business in the synagogue, I could talk Torah in the marketplace." 

  ...click here to read more

pdfFully Free

Why is the Torah compared by our sages to a marriage contract, to a ketubah

One might suppose that they both limit freedom. Each constrains what a person may do, imposing obligations and restricting choices. But to see it this way is to misunderstand freedom. Freedom is the expansion of opportunity not the absence of obligation. 

  ...click here to read more

pdfIt's A Classic?

In High School I approached a well known Rabbi and told him that I had read one of his books and liked it very much. "Ah, have you read my other book?" he asked. No, I had not. "You should" he told me, "it's a classic." 

  ...click here to read more

pdfThe Story of Rabbi Hiyya

Judaism may seem abstract, but the things that keep it alive are very concrete. If you cannot pay for food and clothes, for the lights and the rooms, the desks and the books, the ideas have nowhere to take root. This deep truth is expressed in a powerful story about Rabbi Hiyya.  

  ...click here to read more

pdfThe Jewish Thing to Do

Jews venerate memory. So important is memory to Jews that one characterization of God in our prayers is Zochair kol Hanishkachot — the one who remembers everything forgotten. To be God is to have the gift of perfect memory.  

  ...click here to read more

pdfIs This A Prayer?

Prayer is supposed to inspire us with the beauty of its language and the grandeur of its conception. In each morning service there is a passage called 'The Thirteen Exegetical (or, hermeneutical) rules of Rabbi Ishmael.' If prayer is supposed to be uplifting one can only wonder why such dry material would be included. Here is a sample of one of the rules: "The particular implied in the general and excepted from it for pedagogic purposes elucidates the general as well as the particular." It hardly sets the spirit aflutter. 

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Mark Twain wrote of his experience in church: "I couldn't wait for him to get through. I had four hundred dollars in my pocket. I wanted to give that and borrow more to give. You could see greenbacks in every eye. But he didn't pass the plate, and it grew hotter and we grew sleepier. My enthusiasm went down, down, down — $100 at a time, till finally when the plate came round I stole 10 cents out of it." 

  ...click here to read more










pdfMoses Did Not Take a Selife

When Moses came down from Sinai, the Torah teaches, "He did not know that his face was aglow (Ex. 34:29)." 

This is one of the most inspiring verses in the Torah, awaiting our age to reveal its full depth. Today the slightest sliver of charisma is noted, celebrated and selfied. We are all acutely conscious of our gifts, and encouraged not only to exercise them, but to trumpet their existence to the world. If our faces were glowing, it would be on twitter before the veil lowered.  

  ...click here to read more

pdfMartin Gilbert, in Memoriam

Martin Gilbert, who recently passed away, completed the official biography of Winston Churchill and wrote many other books on Jewish, general, and British history. But he was also an extraordinary mensch. I experienced his kindness myself.

  ...click here to read more

pdfLimp, Skip, Fly

The Hebrew word "Pesach" denotes a holiday, and refers to the angel of death skipping over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. But the same word that means skipping also means "lame." Hidden in that similarity is a deep lesson. 

  ...click here to read more








pdfAstonishing Endurance

History can change by very slim margins: had Blucher been a little late to Waterloo or, as Pascal put it, had Cleopatra's nose been longer, the world would have been different. 

  ...click here to read more

pdfIs Judaism Optimistic?

The philosopher Schopenhauer criticized Judaism for being an optimistic religion. One could make a case for Judaism's pessimism based on a history of suffering, or even on certain verses from the Tanach, (e.g. Ecclesiastes 7:1: "the day of death is better than the day of birth"). Nonetheless Schopenhauer was right. Judaism is, in the end, optimistic.

  ...click here to read more

pdfHow Much $$$ Do You Need?

In "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" Tolstoy tells of a man who discovers that for a small fee, he can have as much land as he can walk around in a single day. Driven by greed, the man wakes early, walks so far that he cannot get back to his starting point, and in the end dies of a heart attack brought on by the effort. He is buried in a six foot plot of land, thus ironically answering the title's question. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfWatching the Detectives

I am a great fan of mystery novels. I have read more than I can count, along with books about the history of the genre, and have many favorites. Part of the joy is that mysteries both illuminate extremes of human character and satisfy our craving for justice, usually with a clever puzzle thrown in. From Poe's Dupin, often reckoned the first fictional detective, through Holmes and the golden age of Bentley, Christie, and up to Rex Stout, PD James, Connolly and Jo Nesbo today, the detective usually represents, however imperfectly, the thirst for what is right. 

...click here to read more











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