Tag Archives: King David

Houses of Study, Houses of Prayer

This the text of a sermon delivered on the first day of Shavuot, 5778 –

     Traditionally in Hebrew a synagogue has two names.  On the one hand, we call the synagogue the Beit Keneset, the place of gathering, and on the other, we call it the Beit Midrash, the House of Study.  If you come to Beth El with any frequency you know that we do quite a bit of both here.  Obviously we pray here regularly.  Today we are here in prayer celebrating the Shavuot festival, but of course we gather for prayer every Friday night and Saturday morning for Shabbat, and a dedicated group of congregants even comes together on a daily basis to pray in our weekday minyanim.  And of course in the fall thousands of people come to pray during the High Holy Days.

     But Beth El is also a place of study, a Beit Midrash.  It is hard to imagine it right now, but when I first came to Beth El there was no adult education programming.  None.  Not a single class, not a single musical program, not a single movie.  And slowly, over time, first under the leadership of Allan Lipsitz of blessed memory, and more recently under the guidance and vision of Dr. Eyal Bor, the adult education programming has blossomed, becoming one of Beth El’s most important initiatives. Every year thousands of people come through our doors to learn and study, and through that process, to grow Jewishly.

     And it is that sense of the importance of study that makes Shavuot different from any of our other festivals.  I would say that for all of our other holidays, when we come to synagogue, the emphasis is on the Beit Keneset, the synagogue as the place where we gather to pray.  But on Shavuot it is different.  On Shavuot, particularly the eve of Shavuot, we come to the synagogue thinking of it as a Beit Midrash, as a place where we gather together to study Torah.

     There is actually an old tension in the tradition between the values of prayer and study.  Both are understood as being important, both crucial to living a full and meaningful Jewish life.  But by and large, when prayer and study conflict, the tradition prefers that we leave prayer aside and focus on study.  No question in my mind the Talmudic sages understood study as a higher spiritual exercise than prayer, and they believed that through study one could come closer to God than one could through prayer.  There is a Talmudic story of the sage Rava, who lived around the year 300 in the city of Pumbedita in Babylonia.  He once found a student late for class because the student was saying his prayers slowly.  We might expect a Rabbi to be pleased that one of his students was taking prayer so seriously, but Rava reprimanded the student, saying to him ‘מניחין חיי עילם ועוסקים בחיי שעה’ – you are forsaking eternal life to busy yourself with the here and now!  In the rabbinic mind prayer is the ‘here and now,’ almost  mundane.  But study?  That is the gateway to eternal life.  The Sages believed that it was through study, not prayer, that a Jew could find true salvation and meaning.

     But the importance of study is also understood as working on a national level, and that is what Shavuot is about.  The moment that symbolizes that is this morning’s Torah reading and the 5th aliyah, when we stand together to listen to the words of the 10 commandments.  In one sense we are re-enacting the moment when God spoke the words and the Israelites, standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai, heard God’s voice.  But in an other sense we are symbolizing in that moment our continued dedication – as a people – to the Torah, to our sacred book.  We are in effect saying ‘we will continue to study the book that You, God, have given us.’  And it is because of that dedication to Torah, to the values of study and education and intellect, that we are called the People of the Book.  

     And I would argue that it is that dedication to study that has enabled the Jewish people to survive for thousands of years.  The Talmud (Shabbat 30b) tells of a conversation between King David and God.  It seems that David was worrying about the end of his life, and he wanted God to tell him when he would die.  God tells David that information like that is something a human is not allowed to know.  And David pushes God, saying ‘at least tell me on which day of the week I will die.’  And God says, ‘you will die on a Shabbat.’

     Now David was a smart guy, and he knows, according to tradition, that if you are engaged in the act of study, the Angel of Death is unable to take your soul away.  So David begins to spend every Shabbat studying for 24 hours.  When the appointed day of David’s death arrives, the Angel of Death has a problem.  But he has an idea, the Angel of Death.  He’ll distract David.  And that is exactly what he does.  According to the Talmud, the Angel of Death climbs a tree near David’s window, and shakes the tree.  David is startled, and for just a moment he looks up from his book, and stops his study.  And at that instant the Angel of Death is able to take his soul away, and David dies.

     On the surface, that story might sound like an old wives tale.  But read between the lines with me for a moment.  In the course of the narrative David is transformed from a warrior king to a rabbi, spending his days engaged in the study of the tradition.  The great palace that he lived in has been transformed into a Beit Midrash – a House of Study.  And in that transformation, David has become a metaphor for a new way of Jewish life, and for a new means of Jewish survival.  Jews would not live in palaces, they would not have armies, they would not have kings, the Temple would be destroyed, and there would be no more sacrifices.  

     But what Jews would always have was the Torah, given to Moses, transmitted to the people, and studied ever since.  The Torah can go anywhere.  It can go to Babylonia and the Academy of Rava, it can go to Europe, it can be carried here to the United States.  Anywhere there is a Torah there is a Beit Midrash, a House of Study.  And anywhere there is a House of Study, there is Jewish life.  In the Talmudic story as long as David continued to study he continued to live.  We might say the same about the Jewish people.  From one generation to the next we have dedicated ourselves to the study of Torah, and by doing so we have ensured the survival of Jewish tradition, and the Jewish people.  Shavuot is the holiday when we rededicate ourselves to that process of study and the role it plays in the continuity of our people.  May we continue to do so again and again, for many years, through many generations.

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Leadership and Scholarship

On a quiet street in Tel Aviv Yaffo, the area where the ancient city of Jaffa blends into the modern metropolis of Tel Aviv, you can find a quiet and unassuming house built in the early 30s.  It is easy to walk right by it without having any idea that it is today a museum, with no entry fee by the way, the first and second floors the place where David Ben Gurion and his family lived during the events of the founding of the State of Israel.  You may know that Ben Gurion later settled in the Negev, in Sde Boker, but the family kept the Tel Aviv home, and used it off and on for decades, even into the 70s.

There are two things that are striking about the home.  The first is how austere it is.  We are used to our presidents being surrounded by opulence, the White House is expensively decorated, our leaders wear expensive suits and ties, they look like men of wealth and largely live in the style of the rich and famous.  Ben Gurion’s uniform of choice was a short sleeve khaki shirt, and the home he lived in was sparsely furnished, just the basics, with worn furniture, a small kitchen, old pots and pans, almost as if to say material things are not important.

The only indulgence in the home can be found on the second floor, which is where Ben Gurion spent most of his time.  There are 5 rooms on the second floor.  One of them is a small bedroom, with an old bedside table with a lamp.  But the other four rooms are filled with shelves, and the shelves are filled with books.  There are volumes in various languages – Latin and Greek, English, French and German, even Turkish, and of course Hebrew.  All told there are some 20,000 volumes in those four rooms.  Ben Gurion spent any spare time that he had reading and writing, studying the contents of his library, thinking about the great minds and the great works of literature, from antiquity to the modern day.  He was a statesman, a leader, a politician – but he was also a scholar, and his world view was formed through study and the world of the mind.

Ben Gurion knew that Jewish tradition had long demanded scholarship from its leaders.  The two greatest biblical kings, David and his son Solomon, are both understood in the tradition as being authors.  King David wrote?  The Book of Psalms.  And how about King Solomon?  According to tradition, Solomon wrote three biblical books – as a young man, he wrote the Song of Songs, the Bible’s great love poem.  In his middle age Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs, filling it with witty sayings and wise observations about the world.  And then in his old age he wrote the book of Kohelet, called in English Ecclesiastes, with its world weary observations about the temporal quality of life.

This idea that the king should also be a scholar is found in the Torah itself, and comes from this week’s portion, called Shoftim.  There is an extended passage at the end of the 17th chapter of Deuteronomy that describes what was expected of the ancient Israelite kings.  The passage concludes with the following verses:  “When he is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of the Torah written for him by the Levitical Priests.  Let it remain with him and let him read it every day of his life, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God, and to observe faithfully every word of this Torah and its laws.  In this way he will not act arrogantly against his fellows, nor deviate from this Teaching…”  (Deuteronomy 17: 18-20)

I see in the passage two ideas that are instructive in terms of how we hope our leaders will conduct themselves.  The first is the Torah clearly believes that a necessary quality for successful leadership is humility.  The text says it quite plainly – the king needs to study so that he will not act arrogantly against his fellows.  A leader who thinks he or she always knows best is not a leader.  True leaders understand that they might be wrong – they doubt, they question, they agonize over decisions.  But even more importantly, true leaders know on a fundamental level that they are no better than anyone else.  When they begin to think that they always know best, when they begin to believe that they have some kind of exalted status, that they are intrinsically deserving of their leadership role, they will lose the ability to properly fulfill that role.  So the Torah reminds us that leaders must maintain a sense of perspective, and that humility is a necessary ingredient for true leadership.

The second thing is that the Torah expects that the king will be a scholar.  A leader must also be a learner – a studier, a digester of information, a thinker, a cogitator, a reader.  The biblical kings had their prophets – Saul had his Samuel, David had his Nathan, Hezekiah had his Isaiah.  And modern heads of state must have their advisors, experts on the wide and varied subjects that cross the leaders desk.  But according to the Torah the leader is not permitted to abdicate the tasks of studying, reading, thinking, and even writing.  That is precisely why in this country we create presidential libraries to honor a president’s service.  You may remember that Winston Churchill won a Nobel Prize for literature in 1953.  And that is why David Ben Gurion’s home in Tel Aviv contains those 20,000 volumes.  He knew that true leaders have to learn, and read, and study, they have to familiarize themselves with the world of ideas, with the great thinkers of the ages.  They have to have a sense of the past, of where we’ve come from, they need to be students of history, and they also have to have a sense of where we are today, of the problems and challenges of our time.  And there is no shortcut  – the only way you do it is by taking the books off the shelf, and delving into the ideas with your own mind.

It is clear from the Torah’s text that ancient Israelite culture felt intensely ambiguous about the institution of the monarchy.  On the one hand the text acknowledges the need for centralized power, and understands that a strong king can unite the people and give them a sense of national identity.  On the other hand the Torah knows all too well that a king without the proper checks and balances can become dangerous and even deadly.  After all, our ancestors were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, a king who had ultimate power.

Of course we know the end of the story.  The monarchy comes into existence, and kings sit on the throne of ancient Israel for generations.  The most successful of those kings – the ones who are remembered as beloved, both by God and the people, are those who follow the advice in this morning’s portion – והיתה עמו – the book will be always with him – וקרא בו כל ימיי חייו – and he will read from it all the days of his life – in order to learn to fear the Lord his God, observing all of the laws of this Torah.

We should hope and pray for the same sense of humility and depth of understanding in our own leaders.  May they realize the need for it so we see it soon –

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Dylan and the Nobel

This a text version of my remarks about Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize award from Shabbat morning 10/15

Robert Zimmerman was a Jewish boy from a small town in Minnesota, gifted with an artistic vision and a powerful spirit of rebellion, who made his way from the hinterlands of America to New York City’s Greenwich Village.  The folk scene there was bursting at the seems, a writhing and living organism of creativity and cross pollination.  The Kingston Trio, clean cut and ready for a high school year book photo, was singing Tom Dooley.  Pete Seeger popularized If I had a Hammer.   Joan Baez reached the top of the charts in 1960, and Peter, Paul, and Mary were playing the coffee houses and cafes.  Robert Zimmerman arrived on the scene like stranger coming to town in a western, trailed by a mysterious past, and ultimately leaving behind his given name to become Bob Dylan.

In a few short years he was the biggest musical star in the world, almost a prophet to the young people in the mid 60s who looked to music for guidance and spiritual sustenance.  The hit records came one after another, too many to name, and the songs he wrote became a generational soundtrack.  He had various periods – a folk period followed by an electric period when he began to use amplified instruments.  There was Christian period when for a time he seemed to embrace Christianity, or at least many of its ideals on his record Slow Train Coming.  There was a return to Judaism, Dylan davening with tallit and tefillin at the Kotel in Jerusalem.  After a motorcycle accident he withdrew from the public eye and regrouped.

But he always came back, he always reappeared.  There were always new songs to sing and play.  He was restless, his mind jumping from idea to idea, his gaze soaking up the American scene, and somehow spitting it back out with song lyrics that sometimes seemed to be divinely inspired, some kind of uber-muse working through Dylan’s inscrutable eyes.  There were songs of social conscience like ‘the Times They Are a Changing,’ or ‘Blowing in the Wind.’  There were protest songs like ‘Highway 61 Revisited,’ and there were powerful personal portraits of love and longing, of loss and the sheer determination to survive against all odds.

To know that he came from Jewish roots is to recognize the prophetic pull of the tradition in his themes and music.  He sang about justice and truth, the power of the human spirit, and freedom.  All Jewish ideals, all concepts that distinguished ancient Israel from its neighbors.  And Dylan was a seeker, somehow discovering the way to drill down to the very core of an idea or issue or emotion, to uncover the truth, and then to lay it bare before our eyes, without flinching or turning away, and daring us to look at what he had uncovered.  In this search for truth he was reflecting the biblical prophets of old, their fiery spirit and unforgettable words, still read and chanted 2000 years or more after they were spoken.

Bob Dylan has been no saint.  He was always mercurial, often obscure, he was iconoclastic, complicated, and sometimes downright ornery and cantankerous.  But his talent was undeniable, and I would argue it was primarily expressed through his words.  The music was mostly made up of simple chords, songs with traditional musical progressions, classic folk and blues riffs and even melodies that had been played and replayed for decades.  But his language was unique and entirely original, and this was his genius.  The often dense and symbolic lyrics that he composed to express in timeless language the very moments, emotions, and ideas that define our lives.

It is because of that unique gift with words, words that changed music, words that defined a generation, that Bob Dylan was presented with the Nobel Prize in literature this week.  There has been some controversy about the choice – after all, he is a musician and not a writer, some have argued.  Others have said that rock and roll should never been considered on the same cultural level as the great novel or beautiful poetry.  But if the prize at its core is about how the words of an artist can both shape and change the world, then it seems to me hard to argue, for few artists in modern times have shaped and changed the world through words the way Bob Dylan has.

Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the Nobel was awarded to Dylan the very week that we are reading two of the greatest biblical songs ever composed.  In the Torah portion we read Moses’ last message to the Israelites, a song of warning and a powerful charge to the people to stay true to the task at hand as they enter the promised land. And in this morning’s haftara text we read King David’s great hymn of victory and thanksgiving, with its soaring language, its metaphors of darkness and light, and its imagery of the great hand of God drawing David from the rushing mighty waters.  In both cases the biblical poetry is a testament to the lasting power of song, and an example of how language, in the hands of the greatest artists, can create work of enduring, and sometimes even eternal value.

I don’t mean to suggest that Bob Dylan’s work should be considered on the same level as that of the Hebrew Bible or Shakespeare or Milton.  Those authors were some of the greatest geniuses of literature in all of human history, artists who changed not only their own time but all the time to come, and who helped us to see ourselves in a new light, with a deeper understanding of what it means to be human.  And maybe 100 years from now people will look back at Dylan’s body of work and see him as a simple traveling minstrel with an electric guitar.

But the Nobel Prize is not of the past or the future.  It is of our time.  And as we Jews qvell when a Jewish scientist or novelist or economist wins the Nobel Prize, so too we should be qvelling this week.  Fifty six years ago a young Jewish boy from Hibbing Minnesota walked onto the world’s biggest stage.  He is still standing there, and he has never looked back.

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A July 4th Shabbat (Cromwell and the King)

this the text of my Shabbat sermon from 7/4/2015

One of the books on my reading list this summer is called Bringing Up the Bodies, the second in a series of historical novels about the court of King Henry the 8th by the British novelist Hillary Mantel. The first book is called Wolf Hall, and that title may sound more familiar to you, as one of the hottest tickets on Broadway these days is an adaptation of the novel by the Royal Shakespeare Company that is currently playing to sold out houses and rave reviews. The two books together tell the story of Thomas Cromwell, a born commoner, the son of a brewer, who becomes a lawyer and rises through the layers of British society until he is the most important man in England after the king himself. The books present a wonderful portrait of Cromwell, truly one of the fascinating figures of his age, a person who through the events of his life becomes a symbol of the transition from the traditional structure of the monarchy to what would ultimately become the democratic model of government that changed the world.

One of the ways the books try to illustrate this is by comparing the characters of Cromwell and the King. Henry is portrayed as capricious, self centered and self indulgent, and suspicious, and his central concern is the preservation of his own power. Cromwell, on the other hand, is shown as being clever and thoughtful, sharply intelligent and perceptive, a self made man who is concerned with power and understands it, but believes that power should be applied for the ultimate benefit of the people. If you know the history you know that the story will not end well for Cromwell, but in the course of his life he manages to set the stage for the democratic process that will one day banish the monarchy to a purely symbolic role, devoid of both power and purpose.

There is no question in my mind that Judaism would take a Cromwell over a King any day. Here is a confession: I always feel just a tad bit guilty when I sit with the pre-school kids on Friday mornings and sing ‘David Melech Yisroel.’ They love the song, they know the words, and the hand motions, and it puts the idea of King David in their heads pretty much for the rest of their lives. But the truth is Judaism has always been suspicious of the institute of the monarchy in general and the figure of the King in particular. When we meet kings in the Bible they are generally portrayed as dangerous, selfish, and destructive. Remember that Pharaoh, the great villain of the Torah, is referred to time and again in the early chapters of Exodus as מלך מצרים, the King of Egypt. In this week’s eponymous Torah portion we read about Balak, the king of Moab. He is a vindictive and spiteful man who spends his wealth and energy on trying to hire Bilaam, a gentile prophet, to curse the Israelites. In a series of almost comic episodes his plans are thwarted by God, who causes the prophet to bless the Israelites instead of cursing them. The message with both Pharaoh and Balak is quite clear – there is one king, and one king only – God! – and any human who pretends otherwise is only fooling himself.

To get back to King David for a second, the Bible doesn’t even seem to be happy with the idea of Jewish kings. Many of the Israelite kings described in Tanach are portrayed as misguided, dangerous, and as having rejected God and God’s ways. That is in fact one of the central roles of the prophet in the Bible – to tell the king that he is, as they say in the Orthodox community today, OTD – off the derech! – he has strayed off the proper path. Even the institution of the monarchy is described in the Bible as being an accession to the will of the people, but in general not a good idea. You may remember the story in I Samuel chapter 8 where the people go to Samuel, the great prophet of his time, asking that he establish a king over Israel. This is Samuel’s memorable response: This will be the practice of the king who will rule over you: he will take your sons into his army, he will make them plow his fields, reap his harvest, make his weapons; he will take your daughters, he will seize your choice fields, vineyards, and love groves, and give them to his courtiers. He will tax you and take your animals, and the say will come when you cry out because of the king you yourselves have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you on that day.’ Not exactly a ringing endorsement. It is the kind of statement that King Henry would have shuddered to read. But Thomas Cromwell, who by all reports knew well the early English translation of the Bible by John Wycliff (1380), would have quietly nodded his head.

So it is perhaps no surprise that the Bible was a source of inspiration and wisdom for the early founders of the United States. The Pilgrims who were settling what would become New England in the early 1600s saw their own story as a virtual recreation of the biblical exodus narrative. England, in their eyes, was Egypt. The King of England was their Pharaoh, and the Atlantic Ocean was their Reed Sea. Last, but certainly not least in their eyes, America was the land of Israel, the Promised Land where they would be free from oppression, and would make a new life under God’s watchful eyes.

Of course the founding fathers also looked to the Hebrew Bible for inspiration. The Bible’s inherent district of the monarchy spoke to them as they struggled against the England and its tyrannical king. It is no small coincidence that so many early symbols from the Colonies and later the United States came directly from Tanach – the Yale, Dartmouth, and Columbia seals all have images and/or words that come from the Hebrew Bible. The inscription on the Liberty Bell is a direct quotation from Leviticus chapter 25, verse 10. And perhaps most interesting of all, the very first design for the official seal of the United States of America, recommended by no less than Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, depicted an image of the Israelites crossing the Reed Sea. As with the Pilgrims before them, the founding fathers saw in their own struggle against England and its monarchy a reflection of the ancient Israelite story of freedom that will still tell each year on Passover.

Perhaps the thread that runs through all of this, the fundamental building block, is Judaism’s insight that all human beings are created in the image of God. If you believe that, then it also must follow that all human beings are equal, deserving equal treatment, equal rights, freedom, and having an equal say in their own destiny and the destiny of their community. A king has no place in that system of thought, where everyone counts, and everyone, ultimately, has a vote. That one simple yet profound idea was brought into the world by Moses, and many thousands of years later would help the founders of this country, on this day 239 years ago, to sign their names to a document containing this most memorable phrase: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

may that be our destiny for many generations to come –

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The Numbers Game

I am sure it is merely coincidence that the week we begin reading the book of Numbers in the Torah an article appears in the New York Times about how obsessed we’ve become with metrics (measuring and quantifying everything in our lives).  The Bruce Feiler penned piece appeared under the title ‘Statisticians 10, Poets 0,’ and described the rapidly growing trend in our society to track and describe everything – and I mean everything – with numbers.  The opening paragraphs of the article revolve around a new smart phone app that somehow tracks the duration and intensity of sexual experiences.  The data from the app is uploaded to a web site, which you can log onto to see, in the form of a map of the country, which states have the best sex.  If you have to know it is New Mexico.  Alaska came up on the short end of the stick, ranking dead last.  

Yes, this is an extreme example.  But it is also the tip of the iceberg.  Today we measure how many steps we walk daily, what our sleep patterns are, our heart rhythms, of course our weight (some things never change), and who could forget the number that confronts so many of us each morning when we log onto our Facebook accounts, namely how many ‘friends’ we have (in case you are wondering, the average is 338).  Feiler goes on to show how metrics, more and more, rule in every area of life – health, social media, sports, social science, lifestyle.  It is a reflection of the impulse behind ‘big data.’   If you can just get enough information, you can know everything, and the mysteries of life – why we do what we do – will be resolved, once and for all.  

I can’t help but think it is all some kind of big con game.  Numbers can tell a story, but I firmly believe only part of the story.  Case in point, a man I recently buried.  Long life, living into his late 80s.  Three children.  Six grandchildren.  Multiple great grandchildren as well.  Long marriage, close to fifty years.  It all looks pretty good on paper, and most folks, seeing those numbers, would say ‘sign me up.’  But the story behind the numbers was much more complicated.  There was an earlier failed marriage that he never was able to come to terms with.  There was a deep sense of unease, a restlessness that never allowed him to feel he had what he was looking for.  Professional success came and went.  Family relationships were challenging and rarely satisfying.  His numbers were great, but his life was in many ways difficult.

Judaism has long been uncomfortable with counting people.  In the Bible, a census was completed by using a half shekel to represent individuals, so as not to directly count human beings.  King David commissioned a census of the people, and was punished for it by God.  Even today the tradition is to not directly count individuals using numbers when checking if the required ten are present for a prayer service.  Numbers can be misleading.  I had a statistics professor in graduate school who told us that statistics are like a bikini – they reveal general curves but conceal essentials.  After all, how do you quantify laughter, love, Shakespeare, Torah, sadness, how you feel on a bright summer morning, or when you watch a baby take her first steps.  Somewhere in all of those things, and so many others, is a sense of what it means to live a human life.  And that is something the numbers will never be able to capture.

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A Holocaust Dream

The haftara reading from this past Shabbat (Parshat Va-y’hi) is one of the most devastating texts in the entire Bible.  It describes the once great King David on his death bed, obsessed with the wrongs that have been inflicted on him during his life.  With his dying breaths he recites a manifesto of revenge to his son Solomon, literally telling him to kill all of the old enemies that plagued David in the course of his life.  What a tragic ending for a great but deeply conflicted hero!  At the end of all things, seeing only the hurts and disappointments, remembering only the enemies, feeling only anger and bitterness, wanting not release, but revenge.

Of course we all know people who live their lives in a similar way.  Not with the same level of anger or desire for revenge, but viewing their years through the lens of a tragic or hurtful experience and focusing on that to the exclusion of all else.  It can be many things – a divorce or a death, a ruptured relationship, an unfulfilled career, a failure in business.  Some people come back to that moment over and over again, reliving it, wrestling with it, reflecting on it.  It becomes the defining moment, the particular narrative that describes their lives, at least in their own eyes.  And in this way a tragedy becomes even more tragic.

Now to the title of this post.  Like many Jews, I have been learning and thinking about the Holocaust since I was a little boy, when I first encountered the subject in Hebrew school.  But last night, for the first time in my life, I dreamed about it.  There was a long, hospital like corridor.  I was walking down it, one person in a long line, being guided towards some distant destination.  In my dream (as can happen in dreams) I knew what this was, I knew that we were being sent to a sorting area, that many of us would be killed immediately, while others would go to a labor camp.  There was an inevitability, no thought to turn and run, to fight or rebel.  Just to walk forward.

I was with family and friends, and we were dressed elegantly.  There was a child I knew up ahead.  He had gone too far in front of his parents and he rounded a corner.  He was gone.  I knew the time was drawing near, and I wanted only one thing – to see the people that I loved one last time.  Just a glimpse.  To see them in this world, in sunlight, with perhaps a gentle smile. 

I woke up and lay still in my bed.  In the quiet of dawn my mind needed to draw itself out of the dream world, to come back to the reality of the present day, my life, this world, the safety of people I care about.  Some hours later now, sitting and typing this post, looking out the window at a beautiful blue sky and a bright morning, I am still haunted.

In a way I suppose we are all haunted by the Holocaust.  Whether we know it or not, feel it or not, it is something that is under our skin and somewhere in our subconscious minds.  I think the challenge that comes hand in hand with that fact is to not let ourselves become David like.  To not define ourselves as individuals, or as a people, by the tragic and unimaginable events that took place in Nazi Germany.  

Time itself may aid us in this task.  There are few left now who experienced the Holocaust first hand.  Within a few short years they will all be gone.  Then the task will fall on us to remember and recall and reflect.  But also to balance the sense of tragedy with other triumphs, both before and after.  Experience gives us many lenses to use to view this world, our lives, our people.  We should not lay aside any of them.  But we also should not use one to the exclusion of all others.

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