What is the Talmud all about? The first thing that must be emphasized is that the Talmud displays deliberate chaos. It roams from one topic to another without any real inner logic, other than that one word gives rise to a whole new idea without warning us that it is coming. The outsider may have trouble making heads or tails of it all. And then suddenly one gets the hang of it and realizes that all this chaos flows together into an unbelievable picture, with hundreds of colors harmoniously coming together. That moment of comprehension is a great joy for the intellect and the human soul.
In returning the prophetic spirit to Judaism, the world of Aggadah is of crucial importance. Aggadah is the prophetic voice within Judaism, where prophecy not only speaks, but allows the reader to answer. It is the part of Judaism that deals with the sum total of human life. It prevents mechanical observance by freeing our inner spirit. Whereas Halacha is the consummation, Aggadah is its aspiration.
The prophets had a universal message, far beyond the Jewish people. Their calls to aid the poor, widows and orphans, and the promise of the coming of the Messianic age were meant for the whole world. The State of Israel is itself the greatest proof that prophecy is slowly coming alive again. Judaism has been handed an opportunity to restore its full capacity, including its redemptive message, to heal the world and end the amputation of the best part of itself.
In this week’s parashah, Yosef set’s up the ultimate test for his brothers. Will they let their little brother down and not sell him to the enemy or will they fight for him? The answer will show whether they have truly repented of their betrayal of him.
Halacha was meant to rely heavily rely on the prophetic voice to give it its spirit and motivation. Because of the absence of prophecy, this spiritual component is missing or overlooked in our day-to-day experience. It is the absence of this prophetic dimension that underlies the spiritual malaise in which we currently find ourselves.
Judaism suggests that at certain times God sends emanations to this world in order to awaken human beings to act. We see this in the story of Chanukah. God created a notion of revolt within the minds of the Maccabees, whose greatness was manifest in their correct reaction to this heavenly directive.
This week, the festival of Sinterklaas will take place in my birthplace of Holland. This festival made an indelible impression on my childhood, and there is much we can learn from the dilemmas it raised (and still raise) for Jewish educators.
COVID-19 has highlighted the weaknesses of our ideologies, both religious and secular, to provide meaning to our lives.
Is the failure of many parts of the Chareidi community to observe the coronavirus regulations a symptom of a deeper underlying problem? Is a spiritual malaise lurking behind their behavior? I believe we must approach this pandemic from a global perspective – far beyond the Jewish community itself.
With the demise of Rabbi Sacks, world Jewry as never before, has to ask itself how it can produce Rabbis on the level of Rabbi Sacks so that Judaism can continue to be a world player.
Music touches the otherwise untouchable and intangible within us. It soars toward the infinite. When I listen to music, I feel like my feet are lifted off the ground and my soul is extracted from my body and starts to live a life of its own. There is no way to “prove” this feeling of transcendence, just as love cannot be proven. It belongs to an entirely different realm.
In the emptiness and silence of the desert, an authentic inner voice can be heard while sitting in the sukkah, a hut that existentially gives protection, but in no way physically shields. This can only be experienced by a people of the wilderness; a people who are not rooted in a substance of physical limitations and borders; a people who are not entirely fixed by an earthly point, even while living in a homeland.
Yom Kippur leads us to realize life itself is a gift and that gifts confer obligations. The more we receive, the more we become obligated to respond adequately.
The blowing of the shofar proves that we can surpass ourselves. On our own, using only our vocal cords, we are unable to produce this sound—a terrifying, awesome, penetrating resonance. This is a sound that can cause us to break down, pick ourselves up again, and transform ourselves into new individuals.
While the Greek narrative focuses on “seeing,” the biblical perspective focuses on “hearing” the deeper internal dimension that eludes the naked eye.
My non-Jewish background allows me to understand the non-Jewish mindset and explain Judaism to those for whom it is entirely foreign.
Rosenzweig was seeking to transform “the maximum of what is alien” into Judaism’s greater glory. The task of Teshuva is to convert negative aspects that are seemingly detrimental to Judaism into a positive force that can enhance Judaism. Can “hearing” other religions be part of this?
I am taking the reader through the uncharted territories I traversed during my voyage of discovery. Only after I have taken the reader through the many mountains and valleys will I be able to reflect on my journey as a whole and attempt to articulate my holistic re-visioning of Judaism. I am guided by the Talmudic method of argumentation where ideas are raised and discussed; sometimes these ideas are accepted, while other times, they are rejected. There are instances where a final determination is never reached. At other times, the debate might suddenly continue many pages later or may even resume unexpectedly in a different Talmudic tractate altogether. It is in this spirit that this contemplative Autobiography is written.
This is Chapter 5 of my Contemplative Autobiography. It is the story of how I rediscovered—and continue to rediscover—what I believe to be authentic Judaism. It is the story of a search for deep religiosity and the re-engagement with Halacha, which I view as musical notes written by the Great Maestro to be played by each one of us on the strings of our souls.
This is Chapter 4 of my Contemplative Autobiography. It is the story of how I rediscovered—and continue to rediscover—what I believe to be authentic (Orthodox?) Judaism. It is the story of a search for deep religiosity and the re-engagement with Halacha, which I view as musical notes written by the Great Maestro to be played by each one of us on the strings of our souls.