Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Archive for January 15th, 2010|Daily archive page

Parshat Va’eyra: A Crushed Spirit, Impediments to Listening

In Uncategorized on January 15, 2010 at 12:13 pm

The reluctant Moses, that assimilated redeemer of Jews comes back to Egypt to rally his flock with promises of redemption,

But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage. (Exodus 6:9)

Even listening proved to be too much an effort for the Children of Israel.  Lest we think that their faith had strayed, or that somehow Moses was inadequate, the Ramban points out that these are not the reasons that the verse offers.  It is because מקוצר רוח (literally a truncated spirit) that they are incapable of hearing. They’re depressed, too despairing to heed anything other than their own weariness.

Recently, a friend and mentor after enduring an unspeakable tragedy, paraphrased the Hebrew poet Bialik saying that when a person is hammering a nail and accidentally hits his thumb, at that moment, the whole world consists of only he and his injury.  Even though he is aware that there is much more to the world than this, his pain does not allow him to see beyond his hands.  The Ramban on this verse says it this way:

It was not because they did not believe God or believe in God’s prophet (that they didn’t listen). Rather, they didn’t pay attention to his words, because (their) spirits were crushed, like a person whose soul is crushed because of his misery and he doesn’t want to live (another) moment in his pain even though he knows it will go away later. (Ramban on Exodus 6:9)

It is during these times that we must grant understanding to those whose suffering does not allow them to see a future, even though in saner moments, they, themselves, know better.  It is important to gently introduce the worlds outside their suffering, worlds waiting to fulfill them once they are capable of receiving what those worlds have to offer.  My mentor during the peak moments of his own anguish offered the words of Bialik as a balm to those present at an impromptu memorial service and presumably as a reminder to himself.  I watched him in amazement, putting aside his own grief to receive and comfort those indirectly affected by this tragedy. Even during these times he was capable of listening, and listen he did.

These are truly the teachable moments that remain with us wherever we go and whatever we do.


Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” Speech in Talmudic Format

In Uncategorized on January 15, 2010 at 9:57 am

I have always been a fan of this speech.  It is just a masterful piece of rhetoric. Poignant, succinct and passionately rendered, one cannot help but notice the pervasive influence of the Hebrew Bible on Dr. King’s thinking.  I thought it would be interesting to create a “dialogue” between Dr. King’s Biblical quotations and rabbinic understandings of the same verses.  The final flourish was to layout the document in the format of a Talmud page.  In this case, however, Dr. King becomes the “Gemara” and the “Gemara” becomes the commentary. I put this together years ago for Hillel, but it still seems to have a shelf life in some circles.  Call it a postmodern Talmudic document. Voila