Friday, March 23, 2012

Margin of Error

29 Adar, 5772
March 23rd, 2012

If it were up to me, we religious figures would have a mandatory disclaimer after we spoke, like in those car commercials.

It would go like this:
“There is neither wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel in place of God.” Proverbs 21:30

What this means in context is something like, “Everything I’m saying has a healthy margin of error.”

This is the truth of the situation - to live a religious life is to reach for God’s will, not to know it. The very point of the exercise is that we do not know with certainty, and that we spend our lives searching for the way. Life is an exercise is learning, not knowing. No religious leader, no matter how fervent, knows the will of God.

But before you get too excited, remember that this disclaimer applies to everyone, not just religious leaders. Often I see people who substitute doubt of religion with their own certainty. Overhead from another Jew: “That’s just what the Rabbis say, it’s not God’s law.” Just because we do not believe in perfect knowledge does not mean we reject wisdom. Not to give teachers the presumption of value is to say that one person cannot pass holiness to another.

What I’m describing is not an end to belief, but a call for belief with humility.
And yes, you still can’t eat that bacon double-cheesburger.

Friday, March 16, 2012


22 Adar, 5772
March 16th, 2012

It’s been a big few weeks for the pundits and talking heads. As the presidential election draws closer, as Israel’s concerns about Iran skyrocket, there’s been plenty to talk about.

What irks me, as the tensions rise, are the kinds of people to whom we’ve chosen to listen, as they pontificate on our nation’s and people’s woes.

The prophet’s primary definition has been misplaced somewhere in the crevasse of modern parlance. A prophet’s first job is to yell at his or her own people, to the group to which s/he belongs. Prophets are the expression of our internal voice of conscience. So why is it that all we hear are people yelling at the other guy?

The Limbaughs and the Olbermanns, the Frankens and the Pragers – all these pundits direct their energies solely towards the other. Towards those like them, and especially regarding their own sacred persons, they have nothing but pristine confidence.

Our Torah does not admire intelligence in place of wisdom, nor glibness in the stead of humility. One of the great questions of the Talmud is, “Who in this generation is worthy of giving criticism?” The manner and method of those to whom we give a platform is of vital importance.

If we could change the world in small, but substantive ways, let one change be this: that we enshrine in our culture those whose criticism we need to hear, not only those who criticize on our behalf.

“A wise person accepts discipline. One who hates criticism is a fool.” Proverbs 12:1