Monthly Archives: January 26, 2015

A Dent is a Dent

In Mark Helprin’s modern classic, A Soldier of the Great War, Alessandro and Rafi are best friends who take divergent paths in life.  Rafi joins a law firm, while Alessandro pursues the life of an artistic dreamer.  One conversation between the two friends is particularly telling:

“Alessandro, why ARE you going to Germany?” “To see Raphael’s painting of Bindo Altoviti.” “All the way to Germany just to see a painting?” Rafi asked.  “All the way to Antwerp?” Alessandro shot back, “to argue about a dent in a ship?” “We get paid for it.”  “That may be so,” Alessandro said, “but remember one thing.” “What?” “A dent is a dent.” (Mark Helprin, A Soldier of the Great War, 223-4)

In moments of clarity, most of us would surely agree that God and religion are of eternal significance, and that our careers and businesses are merely a means to a greater end.  And yet, on a day to day basis, the choices we make and the ways we spend our precious time rarely correspond with our hierarchy of values.  We might believe that serving God is our raison d’etre, but if we find ourselves flying to a far off destination, we are more likely to be on a business trip than on a search for self-discovery and religious truth.  In allocating our limited time, only rarely does the eternal take precedence over the ephemeral.

Our confusion of priorities, argues C.S Lewis, is due to our propensity to confuse the truth of religion with the goodness of religion.  Too often, we perceive religion simply as being ‘good’ for us, and so it is possible to believe that “a certain amount of religion is desirable but one mustn’t carry it too far.”  If […]

By |January 26, 2015|

Where Are You From, Moshe?

If Moshe Rabbeinu was living today and was applying for a job, what would he have write under “ethnic group”?  Technically, he would have to say that he is “Egyptian,” since he was born in Egypt.  On top of that, he was given an Egyptian name, grew up in an Egyptian household surrounded by Egyptian culture, and looked like an Egyptian.  We know this because the Torah details it, especially that he looked like an Egyptian, as the daughter’s of Yitro called him an “Ish Mitzri” (“Egyptian man,” 2:19).

When did Moshe transition from being an Egyptian to being a Hebrew (biblical Jew) in the Torah? The pivotal moment for Moshe was when he matured and rose to prominence in Pharoh’s palace. He looked out and realized what was happening outside of the palace.

“During that time Moshe grew up, and he went out to his brethren and saw their suffering; and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man, of his brethren.  He turned this way and that and saw that there was no man, so he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” (2:11-12).

At that point in time, something gnawed inside of him. He was reminded of his roots, but more importantly, he realized the correct thing to do at that moment.  In that moment he risked it all and his actions speak volumes. He could have decided to do nothing and remain in the comfort of the Pharoh’s palace. Yet, instead, his life changed and he was now in danger. He had to run away to save himself.

As an Egyptian of the palace, it would have been natural and beneficial for him to stay silent and do nothing. To […]

By |January 14, 2015|

A Christian Writer’s Defense of Orthodox Halacha

At the height of World War II, the great Christian author, C.S. Lewis, published The Abolition of Man – a short but powerful argument for the continued relevance of traditional values in contemporary society.  In his spirited defense of traditional morality and natural law – which he refers to as the “Tao,” for convenience – Lewis rejects the moral relativism of modern thinkers who seek to undermine the legitimacy of traditional values. Over time, this concise book – more accurately described as a long essay – has achieved renown as one of the greatest works of non-fiction written in the 20th century.

Reading Lewis’ penetrating words from a traditional Jewish perspective, it struck me that his arguments in defense of tradition could also be read as a powerful defense of traditional Jewish law (Halacha).  Simply replacing the word “Tao” with “Halacha” yields a powerful defense of Orthodox Judaism against the arguments of modern reformers, who argue that traditional Halacha must be changed in order to remain “relevant” to the modern Jew.

The following are direct quotations from C.S. Lewis, with only one change: I have replaced the word “Tao” with “Halacha”:
 “A theorist about language may approach his native tongue, as it were, from outside, regarding its genius as a thing that has no claim on him and advocating wholesale alterations of its idiom and spelling in the interests of commercial convenience or scientific accuracy… A great poet, who has loved, and been well nurtured in, his mother tongue, may also make great alterations in it, but his changes of the language are made in the spirit of the language itself: he works from within…  It is the difference between alteration from within and alteration from without: […]

By |January 8, 2015|