Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Parshat Shemot
16 Tevet, 5772
January 11th, 2012

There is a story told in Talmud of two havruta (study partners) who were bonded for life. They spent years together, learning and arguing, and these two, Rabbi Yohanan and Resh Lakish became the greatest of their generation in the land of Israel. To this day, students of Talmud know them with intimate familiarity.

At the end their partnership broke up, with catastrophic results. The students, distraught over their rabbi’s pain, sent to Rabbi Yohanan another havruta with which to learn, Rabbi Eliezer ben Padat – a brilliant scholar. And to every word that Rabbi Yohanan said, Rabbi Eliezer said, “there is a teaching that supports your point.”

Eventually, Rabbi Yohanan had had enough. He said, “Do you think you are like Resh Lakish? Resh Lakish, when I would say anything, he would contradict me twenty four different ways. Then I would give him twenty four answers. And of itself the learning would grow.” (Bava Metzia 84a)

This past weekend, conservative political commentator Tony Blankley passed away from stomach cancer. Blankley served Ronald Reagan as an analyst and speechwriter, and as Newt Gingrich’s press secretary. In later life he was known for his journalism, in print, radio, and television.

I am an inveterate listener of KCRW’s Left, Right, and Center, and spent years listening to Blankley every Friday afternoon. God knows I disagreed with the man, but there is no question of his prodigious and incisive intellect, his manner that was both genteel and deeply challenging, and the intelligence of his positions.

In politics, as in religion, the game is to get people to think like you. It is the convincing of others to share your belief that allows for the momentum all change requires. But in the end, I thank God that none of us actually win, for then how would the learning grow?

Tony Blankley will be missed.

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