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
Many people feel the need to be noticed. They dye their hair neon green, or they wear immodest clothing, or they say things that are intended to shock. They will do anything to keep the limelight focused on themselves: they will tell a stream of jokes, they will speak without listening to others, they will take “selfies” and send them to anyone and everyone they can think of. The message they convey is: NOTICE ME.
Professor Daniel C. Dennett of Tufts University published an article, “Why the Future of Religion is Bleak.” He argues that religious institutions have survived historically by controlling what their adherents know, but today that is next to impossible. In the United States, one out of six Americans identifies as a “None,” a person without a religious affiliation. And the number of Nones is on the increase.
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.
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.
Although there are those who promote the impurity of Metsora, there are also many who promote freedom and creativity, beauty and harmony. Life is an ongoing struggle between Tazria and Metsora.
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 Passover Haggadah presents a dramatic format for dealing with questions relating to religious observance. It presents four children, representing different attitudes toward Jewish belief and ritual, along with the framework for how to answer each of the questioners.