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Many years ago, I taught World History. I’ve always loved history. Even as a kid I enjoyed reading books which were heavily concerned with historical issues, and that included fiction. My mother introduced me to historical novels, and I learned, perhaps, more historical facts and context from these works of...

Blogging R’ Lichtenstein: Explaining the Sufferings of Exile

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As I noted last time, I have to fit 23 sermons into 21 weeks, and this week seems as good as any to combine two into one. That’s because two of the sermons deal with the sufferings of exile, trying to understand the possible value in the suffering of the Jewish people. This and other sermons suggest that his community struggled with the despair that comes from a difficult exile. Poverty was one element of that, as we’ll see in sermons to come.

Sermon 4 argues that those sufferings are preparation for redemption, while Sermon 19 is about how the sufferings are necessary to purify the Jewish people. Seeing them together will, I hope, show us how Aruch HaShulchan tried to encourage his...

Holy Community

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Every year when we get to Parshat Kedoshim, we try to define “holy.” I try to say something clever and meaningful, but somehow I usually feel that I’ve missed the mark. “Holy” is one of the things that’s hard to define, even though we do believe that we recognize it when we encounter it. There are certain people and experiences that have some ineffable quality that we feel is holy, but the term remains difficult to exactly explain. Just yesterday, at the Kotel, one of my students who isn’t usually into praying wanted to know if it would be okay to put on tefillin for the afternoon service. The look on his face during mincha was definitely “holy.” It’s...

Blogging R’ Lichtenstein: The RA”L I Found

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There is a well-known parable of blind men encountering different parts of an elephant. One was at the tail, one at the trunk, one underneath the belly, one at the wide, round foot, and so on. Each came up with a plausible theory based on what he touched, none glimpsing the whole. (In different versions, when they compare notes, they either reject the others’ views, or come to see a greater whole by putting all of those together.)

To put the same idea in more Jewish terms, when R. Soloveitchik passed away, I remember students of his complaining that each eulogizer cherry-picked elements of the Rav’s life and thought that appealed to him, ignoring much else (in contrast, as it...

There’s Power in the Matzah

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See that title up there? I’m not sure most of us pay attention to titles of the articles we read.  Most of the time I try to be cute or attention grabbing in my titles. Once in awhile, I think that I get it right, but this one is very meaningful to me. It’s a quote from Reb Levi Yitzchak Halevy Horowitz (1921-2009), of course he was mostly known as the Bostoner Rebbe. He said it to me Motzei Shabbat Hagadol in 1990 while visiting North Miami Beach, Florida. The Rebbe, with whom I was not particularly close, had spoken at Seudah Shlishit in a local synagogue about the meaning of matzah. Please, forgive me, but I don’t remember what he said. However, when he started talking about...

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