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Rabbi David Wolpe
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Download Past Off The Pulpit newsletters below:
Writings By Year: 2015 -  2014 - 2013 - 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009 - 2008 - 2007 - 2006 - 2005

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pdfFriendship - December 27, 2012

"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another:'What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'" So wrote C.S. Lewis about the experience of discovering that we are not alone in the world. Others have shared our thoughts and reach out a hand to share our lives. ...click here to read more

pdfCan You Change the Past? - December 20, 2012

The challenge, frustration and color of life is that each day is promisingat its beginning and irrevocable at its end. Centuries apart, a medieval Persian poet and a modern author voice the same frustration: "The moving finger writes; and, having writ/ moved on: nor all your piety nor wit/ Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,/ nor all your tears wash out a word of it." So wrote Omar Khayyam. Here is the same sentiment, expressed pithily, almost brutally, by the author of the Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy: "The biggest tragedy of life is the utter impossibility to change what you have done." ...click here to read more

pdfYoung and Wise - December 13, 2012

Wisdom is sometimes an accompaniment of years. Of course remarkable feats have been accomplished by very young people. Usually, it is true, such feats are not of wisdom but of skill in fields like mathematics, chess or music. Nonetheless, youth is no certain bar to wisdom, even if we don't quite believe the report from Tristam Shandy's Yorick of "the great Lipsius...who composed a work the day he was born" or the story of the Rabbi Zadok HaKohen of Lublin that as an infant he recited the blessing on his mother's milk. They may be exaggerations. ...click here to read more

pdfNot So Fast - December 06, 2012

In Tolstoy's War And Peace, General Kutuzov exasperates his comrades by refusing to take action against Napoleon. "Maneuver" they urge him, "outflank, attack!" But except for ordering an occasional retreat, Kutuzov insists on doing as close to nothing as he can, and wins the war as Napoleon overextends his supply lines and is ambushed by the Russian winter. Kutuzov's philosophy was the less you do, the less you err. ...click here to read more




pdfMagic Entanglement - November 29, 2012

Sir James Fraser, author of the anthropological classic "The Golden Bough" once formulated the second principle of magic as follows: that things which have once been in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed." At first that seems magical indeed, contrary to our experience of the world. But modern physics agrees. ...click here to read more

pdfThanksgiving - November 21, 2012

When the Cantor repeats the Amidah, there is one prayer the congregation must say for itself — the Modim, the prayer of thanksgiving. One statement in the Talmud teaches that in the time of the Messiah, all the sacrifices will be abolished save one — the sacrifice of Thanksgiving. Even in the perfect age, there will be a need to offer thanks. ...click here to read more

pdfLove and Sacrifice - November 15, 2012

The first mention of love in the Torah occurs when God tells Abraham to offer up Isaac, "whom you love." (Gen. ch. 22) Why should The Torah choose this improbable moment to mention love for the first time? For a moment let us set aside all the other questions involved in the very difficult story to ponder why love is introduced here. ...click here to read more

pdfOut Of Step - November 08, 2012

There is an old Punch cartoon: A mother beams down on a military parade and proudly exclaims, "That's my boy, he's the only one in step."

It is reminiscent of the Jewish rowing team that keeps losing. When they ask an expert from a competing school, he watches them row and says: "Ah, there's your problem. You should have one person calling out and six rowing, not the other way around." ...click here to read more

pdfHow to Vote - November 01, 2012

Prioritize your values. Decide what matters most to you, and will matter most to those who will follow.

Gather up all the strands of your character: Jew, American, urban, rural, male, female, whatever matters to your self-definition. Walking into the voting booth is like walking into a sukkah — the mitzvah is fulfilled by the entirety of one's being. An important vote should be cast as a whole person. ...click here to read more









pdfLove and Trust - October 18, 2012

"Love cannot live where there is no trust." Those are the words of renowned writer on mythology, Edith Hamilton. From her study of the steady currents in human myth making, she recognized that for love — as for friendship or any deep relationship — trust is essential. ...click here to read more

pdfAnswer: Both - October 11, 2012

In Judaism the oral Torah was intended to be just that — unwritten. That way teaching would be more fluid, represented by human beings, and not pages alone. But when catastrophe struck the Jewish people, the oral Torah was compiled and fixed in the Mishna and Talmud so it would not be lost. ...click here to read more

pdfWhy Do We Hide? - October 04, 2012

Why do we hide from one another? Some observers have noted that in a maternity ward the babies are remarkably quiet and attribute it to conditioning in the wild — making noise is dangerous when one is helpless. When parental protection is near the baby will cry, but alone remains silent. ...click here to read more










pdfThe Sukkah of Peace - September 27, 2012

The evening prayer for peace, the Hashkeveinu, asks God to "spread a Sukkah of peace" over us. Why a "Sukkah" of peace?

The most important characteristic about the Sukkah is that it is fragile. If a Sukkah is too sturdily built it is not kosher. From the outside it may appear as if it will endure, but a single powerful wind threatens the entire structure. ...click here to read more

pdfI'm Too Many People - September 20, 2012

On Yom Kippur we confess to sins we did not commit (as well as a bunch we did commit). One explanation is that we do not only speak individually, but also confess as Clal Yisrael, the entire people Israel. Another is that the confession is intended to remind us how many impulses, ideas — how many selves — we truly are. ...click here to read more

pdfIf the Dead Could Speak - September 13, 2012

Why do we recite the mourner's Kaddish? In his lyrical,insightful Kaddish Leon Wieseltier speaks of reciting Kaddish as "evidence" — he is the proof that his parent lived such that he raised a son competent enough and concerned enough to recite the prayer.

But why this prayer? The Kaddish glorifies God but makes no mention of death. For many interpreters, it is an affirmation of life — in community we express our gratitude for the years we have left in the shadow of the death we memorialize. ...click here to read more

pdfTeach Your Children Well - September 06, 2012

The Torah tells us that Noah was a "Tzaddik B'dorotav" righteous in his generation — and our sages note that the word for "generation" is really plural. One interpretation is that righteousness is lasting, affecting those alive in the age of the righteous individual and those who live after. ...click here to read more










pdfSpeaking to the Young - August 30, 2012

The Torah tells us that Noah was a "Tzaddik B'dorotav" righteous in his generation — and our sages note that the word for "generation" is really plural. One interpretation is that righteousness is lasting, affecting those alive in the age of the righteous individual and those who live after. ...click here to read more

pdfA Secret of Shabbat Dinner - August 24, 2012

How to get a family to sit down for a Shabbat dinner? I used to wonder how my parents did it. They didn't use threats or coercion. One day I ran across a passage in Patrick O'Brien's Master and Commander, his first novel of the British navy, that explained it to me:

"A commander is obeyed by his officers because he is himself obeying; the thing is not in essence personal; and so down. If he does not obey, the chain weakens." ...click here to read more

pdfUnremarkable People? - August 17, 2012

Several stories in the Torah pivot on ordinary characters. Joseph seeks his brothers and "a man from Dothan" points the way, thus furthering the course of history. The spies in Joshua's time are hidden by Rahab thus ensuring they return safely. ...click here to read more

pdfOn the Sikh Temple Massacre - August 09, 2012

Why do you suppose a man
Would kill some Sikhs at prayer?
Could he have suspected that
Just Muslims worshiped there?

...click here to read more

pdfListening Beyond Words - August 01, 2012

"Dear God open my lips and my mouth will offer your praises."

This is one of many prayers that asks for God's help in expression. Words are often inadequate to the fullness of our feeling. In a famous passage, Flaubert writes of Madame Bovary, whose speech is pedestrian but whose feelings overflow: "Human speech is like a cracked tin kettle, on which we hammer out tunes to make bears dance when we long to move the stars."

...click here to read more









pdfHeroes and Celebrities - July 26, 2012

Wise words for our celebrity saturated culture from historian Daniel Boorstin:

"The hero was distinguished by his achievement; the celebrity by his image or trademark. The hero created himself; the celebrity is created by the media. The hero was a big man; the celebrity is a big name. ...click here to read more

pdfHow to Pay a Shiva Call - July 19, 2012

Some advice for people visiting shiva houses.

Mourning is very personal. Some will weep, others will be stoic. Do not measure the depth of love by the degree of evident emotion. There is no 'right' way to grieve. You are there to comfort, not to judge. ...click here to read more

pdfOn the Proposed German Law Banning Circumcision - July 12, 2012

In Germany there is a move
To outlaw circumcision.
I take to verse to summarize
This outrage with concision.
...click here to read more

pdfThis is Not Good - July 05, 2012

Only twice does the Torah use the expression "lo tov" — it is not good. Once when God declares (in the first statement about human nature in the Torah) "lo tov heyot adam l'vado" — it is not good for man to be alone. ...click here to read more











pdfA Timeless, Tough Truth - June 28, 2012

Some wisdom is so often repeated that it must be both true and not easily heard.
Here is a message that echoes through all spiritual teaching:
click here to read more

pdfStrugglists - June 21, 2012

Some have argued that Jews are optimists, and others that Jews are pessimists. I think Jews are struggelists.
From the outset the Torah teaches that the world is not paradise. One afternoon in Eden is all we get and then we leave the womb to wail and walk.
click here to read more

pdfFor Father's Day - June 14, 2012

My father's father died when my father was 11 years old. His mother was a widow at 34, and he — an only child — bore much of his grief alone. In accordance with traditional practice, he began to walk very early to synagogue each morning to say prayers in his father's memory, a practice lasting for a year after a parent's death. click here to read more

pdfThe Storyteller - June 07, 2012

The most famous tale spinner in the Jewish tradition was Rabbi Jacob Ben Ze'ev Kranz, the Maggid (storyteller) of Dubno born in Setil, a town in the district of Vilna, in 1741. He was asked by his friend, the great scholar the Vilna Gaon, why he always answered questions with stories. click here to read more



pdfSome Good Advice - May 31, 2012

Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was a tortured soul with brilliant mind. Although an unquestionably difficult person, he inspired love and loyalty among his disciples. And he could speak spiritual truths. Here are words of advice he offers to Maurice O'Connor Drury, a student who became a psychiatrist: click here to read more

pdfGod Give Me Stuff - May 24, 2012

The Midrash teaches that when the Israelites left Egypt, God enveloped them in "clouds of glory." When they wished for bread, God provided manna. When they craved meat, God sent quails. Once these wishes had been granted the people began to doubt, saying "Is God among us, or not?" click here to read more

pdfScholarship and Kindness - May 17, 2012

A favorite weapon in the world of scholarship is the review. Some of the sharpest words ever spoken by one scholar about another are offered not over claret in the sitting room but in the pages of learned journals where each can prove his or her essential superiority to the one who wrote the offending book. click here to read more

pdfSpaces In Togetherness - May 10, 2012

Kadosh, the Hebrew word for "holy," also means separate. Yet Kiddushin, the word for the sanctification of marriage, comes from the same root. How can togetherness come from separateness? click here to read more

pdfTreasuring What We Might Lose - May 03, 2012

Why does God command Abraham to sacrifice his son, only to countermand the command at the last moment?

Among the many attempts to explain this difficult story, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks suggests it teaches an ancient truth: You can only fully appreciate the significance of something or someone when you face their loss. click here to read more

pdfIntangibles - April 26, 2012

Each Shabbat evening we turn toward the door during L'cha Dodi to greet the "Sabbath Bride." This tradition harkens back to the hills of 16th century Safed and reminds us that Judaism cherishes what we cannot see. click here to read more

pdfThe Power of a Human Face - April 20, 2012

The Jewish philosopher Levinas talks about the "meaningful world into which the face of the Other has introduced me." For Levinas, our ethics are a result of appreciating the existence of another human being, a human face, before us. By ignoring others we shirk our abiding responsibility. click here to read more

pdfAgainst Certainty - April 12, 2012

We are surrounded by certainty. After a lifetime of finding out how wrong I can be about things I used to be sure of — including myself — I am amazed by the tub-thumping certainty of people around me. From politicians to pundits to preachers to — well, everyone — people seem incapable of entertaining the possibility they may be wrong. No wonder the Talmud tells us “teach your tongue to say ‘I don’t know.’” click here to read more

pdfWhat if You Were An Egyptian? - April 05, 2012

Recently I read an article citing studies that the more power one attains inside an organization, the less empathetic one becomes to those who have less power. Power, in other words, dulls our compassion. So permit me to slightly reframe a message I wrote about Passover several years ago: This Passover, don't only imagine yourself a slave — imagine yourself an Egyptian. click here to read more

pdfA Joyous People? - March 29, 2012

I know of many descriptions of the Jewish people: talented, beleaguered, stiff-necked, enduring — but rarely "joyous." Most people don't say: "Jews, now there is a happy people!" Our holidays reinforce this. On Pesach we celebrate leaving slavery — to go to a desert. On Purim we rejoice because we were not killed. Not exactly gleeful. click here to read more

pdfBound to Earth - March 22, 2012

Rabbinic legends tell of Adne Sne, “man of the mountain.” His form is exactly that of a human being, but he is fastened to the ground by means of a navel string, upon which his life depends. Should that cord be snapped, he would die. click here to read more

pdfHelium Parenting - March 15, 2012

There are some colorful descriptions of “helicopter parenting,” the practice of parental hovering to monitor children’s every movement. Colleges complain that when students matriculate, they are often lost — they do not know how to budget their time, handle disappointment, cook their own meals, and even laundry defeats them. click here to read more

pdfReplace Yourself - March 11, 2012

When asked if he wanted the King of Rome one day to replace him, Napoleon declared, "Replace me? I could not replace myself! I am the child of circumstances." That idea was dramatized by Stephen Vincent Benet in his story A Curfew Tolls, in which an Englishman residing on the Mediterranean coast of France meets a retired, frustrated French artillery major. It turns out to be Napoleon, born a few decades too early to conquer. click here to read more


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