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Man Plans, God Laughs

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You thought your life would run smoothly, right? We all do. Then, something comes off, tragic or happy, which proves to us that life is not smooth at all, and probably is not supposed to be.

Somehow, each of us has a personal script which envisions what our lives will be like in the near and even distant future. I remember a...

Jacob’s Strategy: A Model for Jewish Leadership?

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Regular readers of this column on the weekly Torah portion are familiar with my style. They know that I usually focus upon some early personal memory and connect it to the parsha. Within each parsha, I select a less-known incident, or relatively minor personality, for reflection and elaboration. I rarely deal with the major issues of the Torah interpretation, and I steer clear from both grand philosophical themes and the upheavals of world history.

This week’s column will be somewhat different from my customary style. I intend to go beyond my usual microcosmic interests and will instead relate to a macrocosmic phenomenon. I refer to the cyclical nature of history, a process epitomized...

The Gates of Tears

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Many years ago, when I was studying for my doctorate in psychology, we had a number of fairly strict requirements in addition to our courses in psychology. For example, we were expected to possess a reading knowledge of two foreign languages, and Hebrew was then not one of them. We were also required to study statistics and to take several courses in what was called “the biological bases of behavior.” These courses were designed to provide us would-be experts on the “mind” with some understanding of the workings of the “body.”

The instructor was a specialist in human physiology who only lectured sporadically. Instead, he had each of us choose a topic of interest to us...

Parshat Toldot: Strength, Patience and Hope

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When I was a young boy I had two distinct images of a strong man. One was of Charles Atlas. Do you remember him? If you do, you are no longer a youngster. Pictures of Charles Atlas appeared on the rear cover of the comic books that I voraciously read as a child. His muscular body was presented as the model of strength, and all of us “97-pound weaklings” were urged to correspond with Mr. Atlas, who, through his “dynamic tension” technique, could make similarly muscular men out of all of us.

The other image was of a man I knew who attended the small synagogue that my father, of blessed memory, frequented every Monday and Thursday, when the Torah was read. I don’t think that...

Better the Servant Than the Student

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“You can’t find decent help these days!” This is a common complaint heard in middle-class homes, particularly in Jewish kitchens during the season of preparations for Passover. Happily, my wife and I have been blessed, over the years, with some excellent domestic help. Usually, they were African-American women who were not only honest, efficient and reliable, but also surprisingly knowledgeable about traditional Jewish practices.

I fondly recall a woman named Mildred. She had spent many years working as a maid for an older rabbi in the community. We’ll call him Rabbi Rosencrantz. Although I was but a young rabbi when she began working for us, I had already amassed a considerable...

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