The Pirkei Avot (5:22) contrasts the virtues of Abraham with the vices of Bil’am. Why did the author of this passage specifically choose to contrast Abraham and Bil’am? Perhaps the answer is to be found in how each of them dealt with an external group of people with whom they had no particular connection.
Angel for Shabbat
Halakha works best when it is most human and humane. It is most meaningful when the rabbis and the laymen know each other and understand each other. In an increasingly depersonalized world, the religious community needs to keep focused on the dignity of the individual. We need to foster human dignity, not bureaucratic indignity.
Some years ago, I attended a conference that attracted a number of rabbis and academics. At lunch, I found myself sitting next to a gentleman whose name tag indicated that he was a "Professor". Given his title, I assumed he taught in a university and I asked him what was his field.
Careful observance of the rules and regulations is important; but this does not in itself make us into religious people. Religiosity entails a philosophic awareness of the presence of God in our lives, and a commitment to live righteous, compassionate and moral lives.
A popular quip has it that "I love humanity; it's the people I don't like." It sometimes seems easier to love an abstract concept like humanity, or the Jewish people, or the community--rather than to love actual individuals. After all, individual human beings are not always pleasant or nice, courteous or considerate. Individuals can be rude, obnoxious, violent, immoral.
A story is told of the great Hassidic master, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev. He had been visiting a town and attended prayer services in the local synagogue. One day, he stopped at the synagogue door and did not enter the sanctuary. The many people who were accompanying him were perplexed. Why did the Rebbe not enter the synagogue? Rabbi Levi Yitzhak told them: “I am not entering the synagogue because it's too crowded.” But the synagogue was empty! The Rebbe explained: “The synagogue is full of prayers, there's no room left for us.
I hope your academic year has been going well.
We are now recruiting Campus Fellows for the coming academic year. Campus Fellows receive a stipend and expense money and are obligated to arrange two programs per semester that focus on issues relating to modern Orthodoxy, Torah study, religious life etc. Rabbi Hayyim Angel serves as Director of our Campus Fellows Program. For more information and an application, please see https://www.jewishideas.org/university-network/application
While in Jerusalem many years ago, I met a wise, humble man who was something of a mystic. In one of our conversations, he told me: There are three kinds of music.
The Haggada explains the historical background of the three main symbols; but I wondered if other important ideas were also hidden within them. Here are some thoughts.
When the Talmud asks a question for which no satisfactory answer is evident, it uses the word "teiku" as a way of indicating that we'll have to wait for the coming of Elijah--messianic times--to receive the correct answer. Elijah will resolve our questions and difficulties.
A question is raised: why will we bring our questions to Elijah? After all, the messianic era will include the miraculous resurrection of the dead. That means that Moses will also be among us. Why don't we bring our questions to him, rather than to Elijah? Moses is our ultimate and greatest teacher of Torah.